CQ reader Ken Powell directs us to a new English-language version of the German news magazine Der Spiegel, which reports in its latest edition on the diplomatic razor-dance Gerhardt Schroeder has performed lately between the United States, Russia, and the rest of Europe. According to DS, Europeans have become increasingly disenchanted with Schroeder’s apologism for Vladimir Putin and accuse him of sacrificing the democratic ideals over which he scolded George Bush for a pocketful of Russian Euros:
Worldwide criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin is mounting — leaders increasingly doubt his democratic credentials. Except Gerhard Schroeder that is. The German Chancellor continues to stand by his friend and business partner. It may soon get him into trouble. …
The most-recent questions surrounding the Schroeder-Putin courtship surfaced last week. Following energetic attempts by Putin to influence the elections in Ukraine — including massive financial support and campaign appearances supporting government candidate Yanukovych as well as premature recognition of a Yanukovych victory despite clear indications of massive fraud — Schroeder came to Putin’s defense. “I am thoroughly convinced that the Russian president wants to transform Russia into a democracy and that he is doing so out of a deeply held conviction,” he said. As if that weren’t a gem of a quote, a few days earlier Schroeder had referred to Putin as “a flawless democrat.”
Criticism of Schroeder’s position isn’t just coming from the German media — more and more voices from abroad are questioning his “German path” as Schroeder himself refers to his efforts to become more independent from the United States security umbrella. Russia’s best-know human rights activist, Sergei Kovalyov, is livid. He feels Germany is sacrificing long-held beliefs in human rights and democracy for a powerful friend and a few euros. “What the chancellor is doing with Russia isn’t just morally wrong, it is also dangerous,” he warns.
We’re not talking about chump change in this Russo-German relationship, either. German imports from Russia have increased almost 70% over the past five years, and as Germany moves away from nuclear energy, they will need access to cheap oil from Russia. German exports went up by almost 150% in the same period, but still lag far behind their Russian imports; the trade balance ratio favors Russia almost 1000:1.
The economic concerns appear to outweigh any other, and not just in Ukraine. When the entire EU rejected recent elections in Chechnya, Schroeder asserted that he could find nothing wrong with them. Schroeder has remained silent about Putin’s crackdown on the press and his hostile assault on Yukos, the Russian oil company Putin has all but stolen. George Bush receives criticism about his relationship with Putin, but Bush doesn’t shy from expressing his differences with the Russian leader. Gerhardt Schroeder has elevated toadying to a new level.
In the wake of the American invasion of Iraq and Schroeder’s strong rejection of their US allies in that cause, the German leader became for a short while the toast of Europe. According to DS, that has mutated into a strong suspicion that Schroeder may be nothing more than a sellout who cannot be trusted.