ShareThis Page
World

At Putin's inauguration, former German chancellor Schröder got a front-row spot

| Monday, May 7, 2018, 11:54 p.m.
Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin shakes hands with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as outgoing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stands nearby during a ceremony inaugurating Vladimir Putin as the new Russian President at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin shakes hands with former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder as outgoing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev stands nearby during a ceremony inaugurating Vladimir Putin as the new Russian President at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7, 2018.
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill attend a ceremony inaugurating Vladimir Putin as the new Russian President at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7, 2018.
AFP/Getty Images
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill attend a ceremony inaugurating Vladimir Putin as the new Russian President at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 7, 2018.

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin shook hands with just three people in the audience after he took the oath of office on Monday. They were the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill; Putin's longtime prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev; and former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

It was a remarkable and revealing moment. At Russia's biggest political event of the year, just two days before the country celebrates the Soviet World War II victory over the Nazis, a front-row spot of the utmost honor was granted to a former German leader.

Schröder's placement, captured repeatedly by state TV cameras and broadcast on the evening news, showed the depth of the ties between Putin and his perhaps most important foreign friend. It served as a reminder that the former East Germany-based KGB officer who now rules Russia continues to look to Berlin as his key bridge to Europe. And it looked to be an effort to show Russians — and the West — that the Kremlin still has allies abroad despite sanctions and criticism.

“This was a signal that those who take a positive position in relation to the Kremlin will be supported by it,” said Alexey Chesnakov, a former Kremlin adviser turned pro-Putin commentator.

Schröder took office in 1998, just over a year before Putin, and soon bonded with him at international summits, where the Russian president was often the only other world leader who also spoke German. After losing his reelection bid in 2005, Schröder shrugged off criticism to go to work for Nord Stream, the gas pipeline project linking Russia to Germany. In the fall, Schröder doubled down and became chairman of Russia's biggest oil producer, Rosneft.

Among other things, Schröder has been lobbying for Nord Stream 2, a new pipeline that critics say will boost Moscow's ability to use its energy supply for political leverage in Europe.

Putin has long been intent on building closer ties to Germany, and analysts say he was shocked when Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for European Union sanctions against Russia amid the Ukraine crisis in 2014. Another close Putin friend from Germany stood behind Schröder at Monday's inauguration: banker Matthias Warnig, a former East German secret police agent who, like Putin, worked in Dresden in the twilight of the Cold War.

Both men also attended Putin's 2012 inauguration, but video footage of the event shows that Schröder didn't have a prime front-row spot next to the patriarch.

The Germans' placement on Monday provoked a torrent of criticism. In Russia, opposition leader Alexei Navalny said it showed the meaninglessness of the Kremlin's “talk of ‘greatness and independence from the West.'” In Berlin, the conservative Welt newspaper said Schröder's “depressing” appearance showed he had left “his moral compass in the Kremlin cloakroom.” Schröder's visit came as Western governments, including Germany's, have been criticizing Russia over the arrest of more than 1,600 protesters who participated in anti-Putin rallies Saturday.

Schröder's office didn't respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Merkel, who has taken a tougher line on Russia but has allowed the Nord Stream 2 project to proceed, declined to comment on Schröder's appearance. A German official close to Merkel, however, wrote in a text message: “I'm quite sure that this is not the path that Merkel will take after her tenure.”

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me