SHARE
COPY LINK

UKRAINE

Germany strips Schröder of official perks over links to Russia

Germany on Thursday removed official perks accorded to former chancellor Gerhard Schröder, assessing that he has failed to uphold the obligations of his office by refusing to sever ties with Russian energy giants.

Gerhard Schröder
Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder attends a Bundestag debate on Nord Stream 2 in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

The parliament’s decision to strip Schröder of an office and paid staff follows a lengthy effort to get him to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin, which spiked after Russia invaded Ukraine.

EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schroeder and other Europeans who refuse to give up lucrative board seats at Russian companies.

“The coalition parliamentary groups have drawn consequences from the behaviour of former chancellor and lobbyist Gerhard Schröder in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the parliament decided.

“The office of the former chancellor shall be suspended,” it said, noting that Schröder “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office”.

German media have put the annual cost of Schroeder’s office and employees paid for by taxpayers at around 400,000 euros ($421,000).

Schröder, Germany’s chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has been under fire for refusing to quit his posts with Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom following Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

He condemned the invasion as unjustified but said that dialogue must continue with Moscow.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who like Schröder is from the Social Democratic Party, has also repeatedly and publicly urged the former leader to give up his Russian jobs, but to no avail.

Schröder, 78, is chairman of the board of directors of Russian oil giant Rosneft, and also due to join the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in June.

The gas group is behind the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia, which has been halted by Scholz in one of the West’s first responses to the war in Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Pressure mounts on ex-German chancellor Schröder over Russia ties

Schröder himself signed off on the first Nord Stream in his final weeks in office.

In fact, he took a job with Gazprom as chairman of the shareholder’s committee at its subsidiary Nord Stream in 2005, just days after leaving office and parliament in 2005.

Schröder has always cut a controversial figure.

‘Flawless democrat’

Schröder was born on April 7th, 1944 in Mossenberg, western Germany but lost his father in the war in Romania six months later.

Recalling his childhood, he said they “really didn’t have a cent — that is something that marks you for life.”

He joined the SPD at 19 and worked a variety of jobs to fund night classes to earn his high school diploma at age 22.

Schröder qualified as a lawyer before becoming a radical left-wing activist, only later developing a taste for cigars, bespoke Italian suits and Mercedes cars.

His rise through the official ranks began in 1990 when he became premier of the state of Lower Saxony at his second attempt, before taking Germany’s top job in a coalition with the Greens in 1998.

Germany was the “sick man of Europe” with high joblessness. Schröder is credited for his so-called Agenda 2010 reforms which restored the country’s economic competitiveness and turned it into an export giant.

READ ALSO: Gerhard Schröder – the ex-German chancellor turned public pariah

Gerhard Schröder and Vladimir Putin

Gerhard Schröder (SPD) with Vladimir Putin in 2018. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/TASS | Alexei Druzhinin

But many in his blue-collar party saw the painful cuts as a betrayal of their ideals, and reviled him for pushing through the plans that widened the country’s wealth gap and left it with millions of working poor.

He became the first postwar leader to back Germany’s economic muscle with military might when he deployed combat troops abroad for the first time since World War II: to Kosovo and Afghanistan.

However, despite pressure from US president George W. Bush, he declined to commit German troops to Iraq, causing a rift between Berlin and Washington.

The “bromance” with the Kremlin chief would mark his post-chancellorship years, as Putin made headlines as a prominent guest at Schroeder’s 70th birthday party.

When the Russian leader held his inauguration in 2018, Schröder was in the front row.

Asked in 2004 if Putin was a “flawless democrat”, Schröder said he was “convinced that he is”.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Germany is in a muddle over Russia – and it only has itself to blame

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

CRIME

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

Borys Shyfrin fled as a young child, along with other members of his Jewish family, from the Nazis.

Ukrainian Holocaust survivors find safe haven in Germany

More than eight decades on, the Ukrainian Holocaust survivor has been forced from his home once more – but this time he’s found a safe haven in Germany.

Shyfrin is among a number of Ukrainian Jews who lived through the Nazi terror and have now fled to the country from which Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich launched its drive try to wipe Jews out.

He never wanted to leave Mariupol, where he had lived for decades. But Russia’s brutal assault on the Ukrainian port city made it impossible to stay.

“There was no gas, no electricity, no water whatsoever,” the 81-year-old told AFP from a care home in Frankfurt, recalling the relentless bombardment by Moscow’s forces.

“We were waiting for the authorities to come… We waited for a day, two days a week.”

Bodies of people killed by bombs and gunfire littered the streets, recalled Shyfrin, a widower who had lost contact with his only son.

“There were so many of them… no one picked them up. People got used to it – no one paid attention.”

People scraped by finding what food they could, with water supplied by a fire engine that made regular visits to his neighbourhood.

Shyfrin’s apartment was damaged during the fighting in Mariupol – defended so fiercely that it became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance – and he spent much time sheltering in the cellar of his building.

Became homeless

The elderly man eventually left Mariupol with the aid of a rabbi, who helped the local Jewish population get out of the city.

He was evacuated to Crimea, and from there, travelled on a lengthy overland journey through Russia and Belarus, eventually arriving in Warsaw, Poland.

After some weeks in Poland, a place in a care home was found in Frankfurt.

In July, he was transported to Germany in an ambulance, with the help of the Claims Conference, a Jewish organisation that has been aiding the evacuation of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors.

Shyfrin, who walks with the aid of a stick, is still processing the whirlwind of events that carried him unexpectedly to Germany.

The outbreak of war was a “very big surprise”, he said.

“I used to love (Russian President Vladimir) Putin very much,” said Shyfrin, who is a native Russian speaker, did military service in the Soviet Union, and went on to work as a radio engineer with the military.

“Now I do not know whether Putin is right to be at war with Ukraine or not – but somehow, because of this war, I have become homeless.”

Shyfrin was born in 1941, in Gomel, Belarus.

When he was just three months old, his family fled to Tajikistan to escape German Nazi forces who were occupying the region.

Many of Belarus’s Jews died during the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed a total of six million European Jews.

In neighbouring Ukraine, the once-large Jewish community was also almost completely wiped out.

After the war, his family returned to Belarus and Shyfrin completed his studies, did military service, and settled in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, in the mid-1970s.

“Traumatised”

The pensioner seemed philosophical about the twist of fate that has forced him to leave his home.

“Well, it’s not up to me,” he said, when asked about having to flee war for the second time in his life.

His most immediate concerns are more practical – such as how to access his money back home.

“I can’t even receive my honestly earned military pension,” he said.

He recently moved to a new care home run by the Jewish community, where there are more Russian speakers.

As well as helping Shyfrin on the final leg of his journey, the Claims Conference provided him with financial assistance.

It has evacuated over 90 Ukrainian Holocaust survivors to Germany since the outbreak of the conflict, a break from the organisation’s usual work of ensuring that survivors get compensation and ongoing support.

The body had long been helping to run care programmes for Holocaust victims in Ukraine.

But, as the conflict intensified, it became clear such care programmes could no longer be sustained, particularly in the east, said Ruediger Mahlo, the Conference’s representative in Germany.

“Because many of the survivors needed a lot of care and could not survive without this help, it was clear we had to try to do everything to evacuate (them),” he told AFP.

Getting them out involved huge logistical challenges, from finding ambulances in Ukraine to locating suitable care homes.

For many of the frail Holocaust survivors, it can be a struggle to grasp the fact that they have found refuge in Germany, said Mahlo.

They are fleeing to a country that “had in the past persecuted them, and done everything to kill them,” he said.

“Certainly, they are traumatised,” he said.

SHOW COMMENTS