Actually, it was only supposed to be an internal working session at the invitation of party leader Lars Klingbeil, but public dissonances about the correct line of the SPD in the Ukraine crisis and heckling from former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder had raised expectations.
Participants in the round in the Willy-Brandt-Haus then assured on Monday evening that the consultation had been peaceful – and that there had also been agreement. There was no contradiction to the SPD’s no to the delivery of lethal weapons to Ukraine. Former foreign minister and ex-party leader Sigmar Gabriel called for such deliveries in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine to be discussed without “taboos and bans on thinking in public and in the Bundestag.” Unity prevailed in the SPD meeting SZ-Information also in refusing the transfer of howitzers from GDR stocks from Estonia to the Ukraine.
After the meeting, Klingbeil countered the accusation that his party’s position in the Ukraine conflict was ambiguous. “What we say applies to the entire SPD. We see that the escalation is coming from Russia. We are clear on that: All options are on the table should Russia attack Ukraine’s territorial integrity,” emphasized Klingbeil on ARD with a view to possible sanctions. The party had previously called for a stronger emphasis on the policy of détente on the one hand and the desire for clearer signals towards Moscow on the other. In addition, former Chancellor Schröder accused Ukraine of “saber rattling”.
“Many can express themselves, but as the current SPD leadership, we make decisions together with Chancellor Olaf Scholz,” Klingbeil said in the morning, but avoided direct criticism of Schröder. Diplomatic efforts are now in the foreground. “It’s about the question of how we can avert war in the middle of Europe,” said Klingbeil. He “doesn’t want us now to get into a situation through threats, through actions, in which a war situation might unintentionally arise in the middle of Europe”. The federal government is acting as one. The SPD leadership also has “full support” for Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens).
“This is Gerhard Schröder’s private opinion”
The former party leader Schröder should “not let his historical achievements fade into the background,” appealed the SPD member of the Bundestag and Russia rapporteur in the Council of Europe, Axel Schäfer. When asked by Schröder about the Ukrainian saber rattling, Schäfer said Süddeutsche Zeitung: “That is Gerhard Schröder’s private opinion, which probably nobody in the SPD shares.” The SPD emphasized that the meeting on Russia policy convened by Klingbeil had been planned for some time and had no connection to current requests to speak.
The party has been discussing how to deal with Russia’s behavior for several years. The classification of Russian politics by the then Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (SPD) as “increasingly hostile” in 2018 met with reservations from the Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig. In addition to foreign politicians from the parliamentary group, von Klingbeil also invited Schwesig and the SPD prime ministers from Brandenburg and Lower Saxony, Dietmar Woidke and Stephan Weil, to the talks about Russia policy. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) did not take part.