Schröder the Disaggregator

schroder091808.jpgTo see an expert ply his trade is often a beautiful thing. But to watch Gerhard Schröder do what apparently he does best, which is to push Russian interests in the West in exchange for hundreds of thousands of euros, is an often revolting, stomach-churning disgrace. Shouldn’t we expect higher moral conduct from our former heads of state? Somebody should really let the former chancellor of Germany know that he actually is probably doing more damage than good in representing Russia. Moscow deserves a more credible voice in Europe, and it’s hard to believe anything this guy says even when he might have a point. Yesterday, for example, he gave a speech before a German-Russian business group in Dresden, extolling the virtues of uncritically aligning Germany’s interests with Russia – the subtext of which was of course that the trans-Atlantic relationship should be abandoned or downgraded, and that Berlin’s preferential relationship with Moscow over its loyalty to other EU members would help to disaggregate Europe. He was also there to pitch the war, and convince Germany that it’s perfectly OK for Russia to invade sovereign nations absolutely no consultation with the international community. He told the audience in Dresden, “Europe should accept that Russia, just like any other country, must defend its security interests,” that NATO’s membership talks with Georgia and Ukraine “should be kept off the agenda,” and that Europe shouldn’t look to diversify energy supply because “Russia is reliable, stable and so close to Europe.” To top it all off, he repeated the favorite Russian threat, that if Europe didn’t bend over to Russia’s energy demands, that they would take all this gas and oil and go the Chinese. Interestingly, the very next day Schröder hopped on a flight to Russia to report the results from his assignment to the Kremlin and his employer Vladimir Putin.

Schröder was hosted by Putin, along with Gazprom’s Alexei Miller, at a highly televised event at a resort in Sochi to discuss the latest developments in the Nord Stream pipeline project.The timing of the meeting – as well as the amount of state media cameras gathered there – was not coincidental. For Putin personally, it was very important that the government fight the perception that they have become internationally isolated since invading Georgia while at the same time their stock market halts trading for three days for the first time since the late 1990s. Just today during a speech Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice harshly commented that Russia’s policies had placed it on “a path to isolation and irrelevance.” What better way to fight back the isolation and look like the world-respected energy superpower than to bring in your own personal Rent-a-Chancellor?Secondly, it was important for the success of the Nord Stream project that political action be taken following the criticism voiced by U.S. Ambassador to Sweden Michael Wood (a full translation of his op/ed can be seen here). The attempt by Ambassador Wood to discourage Europe from going forward with the two major Gazprom projects (Nord Stream and South Stream) was a major tactical mistake which quickly backfired. Following Wood’s comments Angela Merkel’s spokesperson confirmed that the German government continues to support the project for political reasons (i.e., the coalition is not strong enough right now to fight back both the SPD and E.ON at the same time).Thirdly, it is apparent that the Kremlin has considerable interests in helping the SPD get back into power in next year’s election, and that Schröder may be able to influence the next government from the shadows. Today Merkel finally spoke out on the selection of Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the SPD’s candidate for the chancellery, and that she would continue to work with the governing coalition in a business-as-usual fashion.I can’t imagine Merkel is very enthusiastic about working side by side with the party that will be doing their damnedest to politically destroy her party. Steinmeier is already echoing many of the tones of the Schröder speech from Dresden, blaming the U.S. government for the current financial crisis: “The sole remaining superpower has lost credibility … The U.S. must win back authority.“It should be a very interesting year in German politics, and one that is critical for Russia’s disaggregation of the EU. However, as I argued yesterday, the election of an Obama administration, who proved himself immensely popular in Germany, would make it a lot harder for Schröder and his protege Steinmeier to win on an anti-American, pro-Russian platform.