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RA in Stern: The SPD Blackmailed by Russia

stern0917.pngToday Germany’s largest-circulation news magazine Stern has published a by-lined article by Robert Amsterdam analyzing the Kremlin’s capture of the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Full English translation after the cut. stern1120.jpg

[The following is a rush summary translation, and may be different in part from the published German version in Stern.]The SPD allows herself to be blackmailed by RussiaOp-ed by Robert Amsterdam There are few political parties in the European Union as dedicated to pushing forward the interests of Russia like Germany’s Social Democrats. This fact was again confirmed during the recent Lufthansa cargo hub dispute, when SPD leader Kurt Beck intervened and prevented any countermeasures to what everyone was calling “economic blackmail” by the Kremlin.Taking into account the numerous public statements from current and past SPD officials (such as Gerhard Schröder) urging soft policy toward Russia, especially in terms of the energy trade, the question is not whether the Kremlin has captured control of the party, but rather how.The “Shtokman Syndrome”One theory to explain the SPD’s kowtow to Moscow is that several of Germany’s leading energy companies and financial institutions seem to suffer from the Shtokman Syndrome – no matter how terribly they are treated by the Russian government, they continue flocking toward natural gas project investments.The negative impact upon Germany’s national interests is quite visible: the more involved certain companies become in business with the Russian state, the more they find themselves working to produce political outcomes to the liking of Moscow. Imagine a hypothetical leading German energy company, Germanco, decides to invest in Russia. After a brief honeymoon period, the Russian government acts aggressively and arbitrarily toward Germanco or related entities. Germanco then uses its considerable influence with the German government to obtain a concession on behalf of Russia. To be quite honest, it is a brilliant job of manipulation.Eon likes Russia more than the EU Take for example the recent conduct of Wulf Bernotat, CEO of E.On, a company deeply intertwined in the Nord Stream pipeline project with the state behemoth Gazprom – the world’s most non-transparent 180 billion euro company. Nord Stream makes economically no sense at all, since it triples the cost of an overland pipeline route.However, it is priceless in its efficacy of shattering the possibility of a common European energy policy. Although Gazprom made Eon look like a fool in the negotiations on the Juschno Russkoje gas field Mr Bernotat recently explained in an interview with the FT that Brussels poses a bigger threat to Europe than Russia, in an effort to defeat the unbundling initiative.The the close relations of the SPD and its former or current leaders with German energy companies – through posts at company boards or through party donations, is well documented. The proximity of the SPD to the Kremlin is best evidenced by former Chancellor Schröder, accepted a 250,000 euro annual salary to serve on the Nord Stream board after he helped push the project through while in office.The cynicism of Schröder’s conduct left no room for doubt. The former chancellor once showed his special brand of cruelty by joking that he wished Germany had its own gulags to send away its inconvenient opponents, in reference to my client, the political prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.It is ultimately Schröder’s behaviour that morally legitimized the recent speech of Gazprom deputy Alexander Medwedew at the world energy conference in Rome. He argued that the EU’s unbundling plans would lead to expropriations which are incompatible with the protection of private property in a market economy – just as if the asset stripping of Yukos and the forced auctions, in which Gazprom also participated, had never taken place. Most recently even former chancellor Helmut Schmidt assessed Putin very benevolent in an interview with the ZEIT magazine Leben. Putin would not be a democrat but an “enlightened potentat”. It has to be doubted that the numerous political prisoners, the oppressed opposition and the representatives of the left free press in Russia share this assessment.But yet with Schröder gone, the SPD still leans toward Russia. Why, for example, did Beck make his very public move to betray Lufthansa in favour of Russia? Let’s assume that he is not lacking the moral integrity that Schröder does. However, as head of a ruling party Beck should have the long-sightedness that promoting some rural airport in Rhineland-Palatine should not be put above defending against Russia’s blunt economic blackmailing. So how safe is German democracy if one of its key political parties seems so willing to be coached, cajoled and manipulated by a foreign power that prides itself on authoritarianism and one man rule?Of equal concern is the manner in which disagreements over Russia threatens to destroy Germany’s delicate governing coalition. The newly promoted Vice Chancellor Frank-Walter Steinmeier enters his new job with heavy baggage – he just recently criticized Chancellor Merkel’s Russia policy during a presentation at the opening ceremony for the European Council on Foreign Relations.Steinmeier might give new names to the SPD’s surrender to the Kremlin such as “Ostpolitik,” “cooperative energy security policy,” and “strategic partnership,” but until we know exactly how much E.On is funnelling into the SPD party coffers to help pay ransom on their hostage investments in Russia, we should know Shtokman Syndrome when we see it.