BERLIN (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hit back at those criticising him for taking a job at a Russian energy company, saying some of his critics wanted to push Germany into a “new Cold War”.
The critics include his successor as chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is campaigning to win her fourth term in elections to be held Sept. 24.
The nomination of Schroeder to the board of state-owned Rosneft, which is subject to Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis, has caused an outcry in Germany, where many fear Russian interference in the coming elections.
But Schroeder, interviewed at a town-hall-style event in the western town of Rotenburg, said Rosneft was being falsely portrayed in the German media, questioning whether he would face similar criticism if he had chosen to work for a U.S. company.
“Imagine if I had been proposed not for a Rosneft board position but for Exxon in America,” he said. “Nobody would ask my true motives,” he said, replying to a question put by a party ally and a parliamentary candidate in the Sept. 24 election.
“It is the largest oil company in the world, with important links to Germany,” he said. “It is not the long arm of the Kremlin. They are the majority shareholder, but BP is a shareholder - not a small shop. Qatar is a shareholder.”
Schroeder has been slammed as “Gazprom Gerd” for his relationship with Gazprom, another major Russian energy company. Martin Schulz, running against Merkel for the Social Democrat party, has come under pressure to distance himself from Schroeder, the party’s last national election winner.
But Schroeder, 73, who makes no bones about his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said he had been vindicated in his decision to oppose former U.S. President George Bush’s Iraq war in 2003 and said he was confident that his involvement with Russia would be seen in the same way.
Merkel, his Christian Democrat successor and a staunch Atlanticist who backed the Iraq war, said Schroeder’s decision to take on corporate retirement jobs was “not okay”.
“The people who are now particularly critical wanted to sign us up to the Iraq war, and they’ve never apologised for standing on the wrong side then,” Schroeder said. “The ones doing it again clearly have an interest in us entering into a new Cold War, for example with Russia.”
The former chancellor, still popular among his party faithful, also took a swipe at U.S. President Donald Trump, comparing Trump’s seemingly impulsive Twitter diplomacy unfavourably with his Russian counterpart’s approach.
“It’s very problematic if someone goes about things depending on their mood, railing against this media organisation or the other,” he said. “Compared to Mr Trump, Mr Putin is a very rational man, you have to admit.”
Reporting By Thomas Escritt, editing by Larry King