EIt was supposed to be an internal meeting, without much fanfare. But it was not only Moscow’s troop deployment on the border with Ukraine that gave explosiveness to the discussion between almost 20 social democrats on Monday afternoon, which was supposed to be about dealing with Russia. Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was added as an unappointed advertising drummer. “I really hope that the saber-rattling in Ukraine will finally stop,” said the 77-year-old former prime minister at the weekend.
Schröder acted as if Kiev were about to invade Greater Russia. Blaming Berlin from Ukraine would “knock the bottom out,” Schröder rumbled, referring to Germany’s controversial refusal to supply arms to Kiev. The Russian leadership could have no interest in “intervening militarily in Ukraine,” Schröder shared his world view in a podcast.
In the SPD, Schröder’s words initially went uncommented. Only foreign policy expert Michael Roth said he had “complete understanding” for Ukraine’s need for protection, “that has nothing to do with saber-rattling”. On Monday morning, SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil also stepped away from the former chancellor; he counts Schröder among his friends and once worked as a student in his constituency office. “Many can express themselves,” he said about Schröder’s initiative. “But we, the current SPD leadership, will decide,” of course together with Chancellor Olaf Scholz. The escalation comes from Russia. Now it’s a matter of “having as many talks as possible” and “organizing peace”.
Union criticizes Schroeder
Many in the SPD are annoyed that Schröder is driving his party into the parade again. The Union used the former Chancellor’s statements to annoy the Social Democrats. Hamburg’s CDU state chairman Christoph Ploß demanded that Schröder lose his office in the Bundestag along with his staff, a privilege to which all former chancellors are entitled.
Those who, like Schröder, lobby for the interests of the Russian state should “at least no longer be supported by taxpayers,” said Ploß. After all, Schröder is a Gazprom lobbyist and chairman of the board of the largest Russian oil company, Rosneft. The SPD, of course, rejects the proposal. One should refrain from “politically motivated punitive actions against former chancellors,” said SPD foreign policymaker Nils Schmid of the FAZ
Putin friend Schröder is an extreme case in the SPD when it comes to attitudes toward Russia. But there have been conflicting camps on the subject for a long time. The new party leader Klingbeil therefore invited two weeks ago to the conversation. There are current reasons for this. For example, the statement by SPD General Secretary Kevin Kühnert that in the event of Moscow’s threats to Ukraine, conflicts would be “talked into being”. That surprised many, as did Scholz’s statement that the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline was a purely private-sector project.
Only after the chancellor had clarified that in the event of an attack by Russia, all sanctions apart from a military response were possible, did the ranks in the traffic light coalition close – because all of them also mean that the gas pipeline will not be put into operation. “Once the federal government has agreed with the allies that all options are on the table in the event of a Russian attack, then that should no longer be questioned,” warns foreign politician Schmid.
For the discussion, Klingbeil invited everyone who has a leading position in the SPD to deal with the topic. From the government, Development Minister Svenja Schulze and Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht were to take part, with the latter being represented due to time constraints, and Chancellor Wolfgang Schmidt also wanted to do the same. In addition to faction leader Rolf Mützenich, who traditionally plays the peace shawm in the direction of Moscow, Schmid and the party left Matthias Miersch should take part.
The former SPD leader and current head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, Martin Schulz, and MEP Katharina Barley should also be there. Klingbeil also invited Manuela Schwesig, Stephan Weil and Dietmar Woidke. The Prime Ministers of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Lower Saxony and Brandenburg have campaigned for Nord Stream 2 as those affected.
In recent years they have brought up the dismantling of EU sanctions against Moscow. Schwesig said in mid-January that she was hoping for “a speedy legal process so that the line can go into operation”. The United States criticized them for wanting to stop the project “with sanctions and the threat of sanctions”. The chairman of the German Economic Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, Oliver Hermes, praised them as “solid as a rock”.
Since the SPD is now leading the government, they at least want to find common language rules. “Invoking a policy of détente is not enough in the current situation. But we need a good relationship with Russia in the long term, even if little can be achieved at the moment,” Schmid indicates a line of compromise. Resolutions should not be made in the meeting in the Willy-Brandt-Haus, in which many participants were connected via video. More meetings are likely to follow.