Russia, Schröder and the SPD

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From: Florian Nauman

Lars Klingbeil (right) and Gerhard Schröder during a joint campaign appearance in 2017. © Carmen Jaspersen/dpa/picture-alliance

The SPD is struggling to maintain its course on Russia. Party leader Klingbeil makes a clarification – and convenes a kind of summit. Connections between the party and Russia are coming into focus.

Berlin/Goslar – The crisis on the border between Russia and Ukraine is now threatening to grip the chancellor party SPD in an unpleasant way: It’s about the party’s course towards Russia. Eyes have recently turned to ex-Prime Minister Gerhard Schröder, who is known to have close ties to Russian institutions. But former SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel also stepped into the debate from the sidelines, with a completely different thrust.

The new chairman Lars Klingbeil, who was only elected in December, now wants to close ranks. And probably also dispel the suspicion that the SPD is deliberately taking a gentle course towards Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Klingbeil spoke up on TV on Sunday. A kind of party-internal summit meeting on the subject will follow on Monday.

Russia, Schröder and the SPD – reports give speculation new fodder

The aim will probably also be to give the SPD leadership internal sovereignty again. Schröder had previously accused Ukraine of “saber rattling” in the conflict with Russia. Gabriel, in turn, had called for an open discussion about arms deliveries to the country after criticizing the federal government’s restriction of helmet deliveries to Ukraine.

Spicy: Speculations about Schröder’s role received new fodder at the weekend. The portal reported about several unrecorded meetings between the Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig (SPD), and Schröder in recent years – one of them at an economic forum in St. Petersburg, as a spokesman for the state government confirmed to the website.

The event was also attended by the state energy minister Christian level (also SPD), the report said. Later, he was also instrumental in getting the country’s foundation structure for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which was sometimes met with ridicule and sometimes with incomprehension. None of this seems illegal. However, it strengthens the impression that several SPD politicians have close ties with Russia – and that Schröder plays a relevant role in this. In other contexts, such international cooperation would, of course, hardly receive any attention. The Russia-Ukraine conflict and long-known criticism of the Russian government’s dealings with civil society make it explosive.

Gerhard Schröder 2019 at the “St.  Petersburg Economic Forum
Gerhard Schröder 2019 at the “St. Petersburg Economic Forum” – this is where he also met the Prime Minister of the SPD, Manuela Schwesig. © Vladimir Smirnov/

The German Environmental Aid (DUH), for example, sees the “MV Foundation for Climate and Environmental Protection” as a “fake” – this is financed to a very relevant extent by Nord Stream 2 AG. The main purpose of the foundation is obviously to enable the (now completed) further construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline through an economic business operation, the association explained in 2021 on the occasion of a lawsuit against the construct. The head of the foundation is the former SPD Prime Minister Erwin Sellering. He now conceded opposite t-online that the implementation of the foundation was also about “countering the attempts at intimidation by a great power that violate international law”. Apparently, what was meant were threats of sanctions by the USA in view of the approaching commissioning of Nord Stream 2.

A possible bias of the SPD is in any case the subject of debate. Also the Southgerman newspaper recently highlighted the SPD’s Russia issue. According to the report, party headquarters said that Schröder had no influence whatsoever on current politics – not even on Klingbeil, who once worked in Schröder’s constituency office. Other comrades reported that the former chancellor was not actively mobilizing his contacts on Russia. However, Schröder answers the phone when he is called from the party. The opposition is also aware of the Schröder problem: Hamburg CDU leader Christoph Ploß has already called for Schröder’s former chancellor’s office to be closed. “The behavior of ex-Chancellor Schröder is just embarrassing and unworthy of a former chancellor,” he said Spiegel.

SPD and the Russia question: Klingbeil gives Schröder and Gabriel public dampeners

In the ZDF program “Berlin direkt” on Sunday (January 30), Klingbeil then politely put a damper on the two SPD doyens, Schröder and Gabriel. He stressed that it was okay for others to join the debate. “But those who are responsible for the party” are “clear and clear and unequivocal”.

“The escalation that we are currently experiencing is coming from Russia,” Klingbeil continued. It is now a matter of doing everything possible to avert a war in the middle of Europe. “All options are on the table should Russia attack Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” emphasized Klingbeil. Now it is important to have every conversation “to seek a diplomatic way out of the crisis and to prevent war”.

He told Gabriel: “I am fundamentally convinced that it will not help if we deliver weapons.”

SPD: Summit meeting on the Ukraine crisis on Monday – Schwesig is also there

At Klingbeil’s invitation, leading SPD politicians are to meet on Monday for confidential consultations on the Ukraine crisis. The party leader spoke on ZDF of a “routine meeting” with representatives of the party, parliamentary group and government – Schwesig will also be there. The date should remain purely internal – information for the public afterwards is not planned.

The federal government led by the SPD has come under increasing international criticism in recent days for its actions in the Ukraine crisis. Germany is accused of not putting enough pressure on Russia during the crisis. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) had hesitated for a long time before he put the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the table as a sanctions instrument in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine – and that only in a cryptic way. (dpa / AFP / fn)

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