German media outlets are fuming about a proposal, pitched by former German Chancellor Schröder, to open the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Gerhard Schröder, of the social-democratic SPD, has been facing heavy scrutiny for his lobby-work for Gazprom and his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. After an interview with the German newspaper Stern, Schröder—stressing Moscow’s willingness to resolve its conflict with Ukraine through negotiations—now also stands accused of spreading Kremlin propaganda.
Schröder discussed the outcome of his recent meeting with Vladimir Putin. According to the interview, he received the impression that Putin was open for a “negotiated settlement,” adding that the recent agreement to facilitate grain exports could become a “first step” that could “slowly be extended to a ceasefire.”
Even though Schröder repeatedly called the war “a mistake by the Russian government,” he pointed towards “real fears of encirclement” in Russia, which are “fueled by historical experiences” and thus “unfortunately valid.” But Schröder is also convinced that “the really relevant problems” in the current conflict “are solvable.” The former chancellor even suggested a solution for the Donbas region “based on the Swiss canton model,” adding that this leads to the question whether we “want the conflict to be solved at all?”
A solution could only be achieved, he suggested, if both sides make concessions. It would be “a grave mistake to denigrate any concessions by Ukraine as a Russian ‘dictated peace’,” said Schröder.
The 78-year old Schröder also pointed out the positive role of Turkish diplomatic efforts in securing the agreement for grain exports. Erdogan could also play an important part in further negotiations, according to Schröder, but “without a clear sign of support from Washington” nothing will happen.
Regarding the gas situation in Germany, Schröder said that the diminished capacities aren’t caused by political blackmail from Russia, but by “technical and bureaucratic problems on both sides.” While current Chancellor Olaf Scholz called out Russia for “using the missing gas turbine [from Nordstream 1] as an excuse to reduce gas exports to Germany,” Schröder wondered why the turbine is still in Germany, and not in Russia. He then promoted the idea of putting Nord Stream 2 into service, since Putin assured him that Russia could deliver up to 27.5 billion cubic metres of gas via Nord Stream 2.
Asked why he didn’t distance himself further from Vladimir Putin, Schröder said that he “condemned the war repeatedly,” but wonders whether “a personal distancing from Vladimir Putin would really help anybody.” While he has no aspirations to act as a negotiator in the current conflict, he did add that maybe he could “turn out to be of use some day.”
Russian state media naturally celebrated his statements and revelled in Schröder’s attention to the location—in Germany—of the repaired turbine. German legacy media, however, was infuriated.
Bild referred to Schröder as “a danger for Germany,” called him the “prolonged arm of Kremlin propaganda,” and wondered “how to deal with an ex-chancellor that’s being used by the enemy as an instrument in the information war.” The newspaper Focus accused Schröder of “shamelessly twisting facts” and ridiculed Schröder’s idea to start up Nord Stream 2, as “warlord Putin wants nothing more than for the Germans to crawl here.” Schröders explanation of Russia’s “fears of encirclement” are a result of his “anti-americanism.” And the ZDF asked a military expert on whether this was “a serious offer for negotiations or just perfidious Kremlin-propaganda?”
Expert in military history Sönke Neitzel said that he personally “finds no substance” in Schröder’s interview. Schröder’s suggestions of a recognition of Crimea, a canton solution for Donbas, or a rejection of Ukraine’s request for NATO membership are all things that Russia could have gotten from the West and from Ukraine “prior to the 24th of February.” Instead, Neitzel doubts that Russia is interested in negotiations, as 4000 to 5000 shells are fired daily by Russian artillery, killing an average of 30 Ukrainian soldiers per day. Neitzel said “this doesn’t look like negotiations to me.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky referred to Schröder’s interview as “simply disgusting when former leaders of powerful states with European values work for Russia” in his latest video address on Wednesday night.