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Former German Chancellor Schröder leaves his post at the Russian oil company Rosneft | International

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during an appearance in the German Parliament in July 2020.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder during an appearance in the German Parliament in July 2020.Kay Nietfeld (AP)

On the verge of three months of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has taken a first step to disassociate himself from the Kremlin-controlled state companies for which he has been working for almost two decades. The largest Russian oil company, Rosneft, has reported this Friday that Schröder will not continue on the board of directors. The politician himself, a well-known lobbyist of Russian interests and heavily criticized both inside and outside Germany for refusing to sever ties with Vladimir Putin, has informed the company that he is stepping down as chairman of the board of directors.

The decision comes a day after the German Parliament approved withdrawing from Schröder one of the perks he enjoys as a former chancellor: his own office with five assistants that last year cost the public treasury more than 400,000 euros. Also this Thursday the European Parliament urged the Commission to include the Social Democratic politician on the EU blacklist for being in the pay of Russian companies.

Together with the former Social Democratic chancellor, Matthias Warnig, also a German, is leaving the post of vice president of the Rosneft board of directors. Both were independent directors of the energy giant whose largest shareholder is the Russian State. Until now, Warnig was also the CEO of Nord Stream AG, the Swiss-based managing company of the gas pipelines of the same name.

Schröder was chancellor between 1998 and 2005, a period during which he laid the foundations for building the Nord Stream gas pipeline that transports natural gas directly from Russia through the Baltic Sea bed, bypassing transit countries such as Ukraine and Poland. Shortly after leaving the chancellery, he made the leap to the company Nord Stream AG, which manages both Nord Stream 1, currently in operation, and Nord Stream 2, the expansion of the gas pipeline that Olaf Scholz’s coalition government paralyzed shortly before start the invasion.

One of Schröder’s most controversial decisions came just before he was defeated in the 2005 general election by Christian Democrat Angela Merkel. Just a few weeks before the elections, he signed an agreement with the Russian president for the construction of the first Nord Stream, which came into operation in 2011. The extension, Nord Stream 2, should have started pumping gas a few months ago, but the chancellor Social Democrat, Olaf Scholz, paralyzed the administrative process after Moscow recognized the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk on February 21.

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At the moment there is no news that Schröder has left his post on the board of directors of the gas pipeline manager. He also has not given explanations as to why he has decided to leave the Rosneft board just now. In a controversial interview he gave to New York Times last month he said he would only resign from Rosneft if Russia unilaterally decides to cut off the flow of gas to Germany.

Schröder is a well-known lobbyist for Russian interests and a personal friend of Putin, who not many years ago claimed to be “an impeccable democrat.” In 2014 he celebrated his 70th birthday in the company of the Russian president in Saint Petersburg, just weeks after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Pressure for him to step down from Russian business has been mounting in recent months, especially from the SPD, the Social Democratic party of which he is still an active member. There are several open initiatives to expel him.

It is estimated that as a representative of the Rosneft shareholders, the former foreign minister pocketed more than half a million a year. According to the company, he does not own shares in the company, unlike Warnig. The European Parliament also asked Karin Kneissl, a former Austrian Foreign Minister during the Sebastian Kurz government, to leave her position at Rosneft. Most of the former European leaders whom Putin had lured into positions in Russian state-owned companies resigned after the invasion began on February 24. Two examples are former French Prime Minister François Fillon and his Finnish counterpart, Esko Aho.

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