The former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder has come under fire for a private meeting held with the Russian leader, Vladimir Putin, after he travelled on holiday to Moscow to meet him.
Schröder told German media in a lengthy interview he had nothing to apologise for over his friendship with Putin, whom he met last week during a visit to the Russian capital.
Schröder has come under fierce criticism for his business links to the Russian state-run gas company Gazprom. He was one of the driving forces behind the construction of two Baltic Sea pipelines to carry gas to Europe, one of which was mothballed after the invasion of Ukraine. The other, Nord Stream 1, is only currently delivering 20% of the level of gas expected.
Schröder is facing an investigation by the Social Democrats of which he has been a member since 1963, over his Kremlin links and his refusal to distance himself from Putin, and could yet be ejected from the party.
In a five-hour long interview with the magazine Stern and the broadcaster RTL he gave no direct insight into the mindset of the Russian leader, but said following his discussions with him he thought the conflict with Russia was “resolvable” but required more negotiations – which Germany and France should lead – and a greater display of sensitivity by the west towards Russia’s “real fears of being hemmed in” by hostile countries, which “feed off historical events” and were “unfortunately also valid”.
Looking to the future, Schröder recommended an Austria-style neutrality status for Ukraine, and a Swiss-style arrangement of cantons for what he referred to as the “more complicated” Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. He said that both sides needed to show a willingness to compromise.
But he would apparently not be drawn into talking about the atrocities which have been carried out by Russian troops since the start of the most recent stage in the conflict, including the massacre in Bucha, the deaths of thousands of civilians across the country, the occupation of eastern and southern regions, the forced deportation of thousands of Ukrainians and allegations the Kremlin is trying to eradicate the population.
Regarding the row over why only a fifth – or 30m cubic metres a day – of the expected amount of gas is currently flowing through the Nord Stream pipeline, Schröder said the blame lay at the door of the German company Siemens, which he blamed for failing to deliver a recently serviced turbine to Russia.
But according to the German government and to Siemens, it is Moscow that is to blame for its refusal to take delivery of the turbine, which was recently transported from Canada to Germany after a special dispensation was given allowing sanctions against Russia to be temporarily suspended.
“We would be seeing 60m cubic metres, so double the amount that is currently flowing, were the turbine (Nr 2) available. That is down to Siemens as far as I understand it,” he said. The same explanation as to why the turbine remains stuck in Siemens Energy’s Mühlheim an der Ruhr factory has been given by Putin himself.
On Wednesday the site was visited by the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, who hoped to use the occasion to, as he put it, “call Russia’s bluff”, emphasising that the turbine’s stasis was down to Moscow.
Schröder earned scorn on social media and in government circles for his insistence in the interview that the simple solution to Germany’s energy needs – as it faces a winter of inadequate gas supplies – would be to activate Nord Stream 2, a pipeline the construction of which has been completed, but which was then scrapped by the German government in protest at Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February.
“The simplest solution would be to start up the operation of Nord Stream 2,” Schröder said. “It is completed. If it really gets tight regarding gas, we have this pipeline, and with both pipelines together there would be no supply problem for German industry or for German households.”
The German government has no plans to activate the pipeline.
Asked why he had refused to distance himself from Putin, Schröder responded: “I would ask how would it help anyone if I were to personally distance myself from Vladimir Putin? … Maybe I can even be of some use. So why should I apologise?”