It’s been a busy month for governmental staff. Every western government is scrutinising its past 20 years of dealings with Russia, weighing up the broken agreements, the reactions to past atrocities in Chechnya, grading the photos of their leaders standing next to Putin, wondering how they might look now. The UK government obviously has the most to be worried about, seeing as it is led by a party that has made bringing Russian wealth into London’s property market a main part of its platform for decades.
Germany, meanwhile, has its own special set of Russian ties to untangle. One of them is the €9.5 billion it cost to build a second metal tube at the bottom of the Baltic Sea that will now lie there, unused, like a chute in an abandoned playground. Last December, newly sworn-in Chancellor Olaf Scholz was still describing Nord Stream 2 as a private enterprise and anyone who thought it had a political significance was a fool. Germany now has to choose between spiralling heating costs for its own population or funding Putin’s murderous war.
That’s your cue, Gerhard Schröder. Notoriously, the former chancellor was awfully keen to make Nord Stream one of his top priorities in the summer of 2005, in the middle of a very close election battle he would go on to lose to Angela Merkel. In fact, he pulled the deal together in the nick of time on September 8, 2005, ten days before the election, when he and Putin stood together and watched the bosses of Gazprom and the German corporations BASF and E.ON sign the deal that would make Germany dependent on Russian fossil fuels. Even more notoriously, Schröder became head of Nord Stream’s supervisory board three months later and then went on to take the same job at the Russian energy company Rosneft in 2017.
Now Schröder is one of Putin’s only friends, a free agent between Moscow and Istanbul, where he met a Ukrainian delegation as part of his attempts to broker peace. Schröder’s wife Kim also did her bit, posting an Instagram picture of herself praying (for peace? For her assets not to be frozen?) in front of a hotel room window overlooking the Kremlin, which everyone had a good laugh about on Twitter. Anything to lighten the mood these days.
Easy to judge, but all this isn’t exactly a bad thing – if anyone’s going to talk a dictator down it might just be a possibly corrupt underling who has actively tried to polish his reputation internationally. No one’s exactly holding their breath for Shuttle Schröder’s peace efforts, but still, he probably has a better chance of getting through to Putin than Schröder’s two successors in the chancellery, who Putin has so far treated mainly with contempt.
That isn’t exactly fair, because both Scholz and Merkel were as enthusiastic about Nord Stream as Schröder, and Merkel ceremonially turned a big tap for the first pipeline in 2011 (alongside Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Schröder). But Schröder is especially shameless about his business dealings.
Transparency campaigners Abgeordnetenwatch found out last month he’d had an official meeting with Merkel just after the last election in September, when the world felt saner. So what did they have to talk about? Making sure Nord Stream stays online? The chancellery has refused to say. Schröder also had several meetings with Scholz during the latter’s tenure as finance minister. Schröder gets around. He’s everywhere.