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Schröder: Good relationship with Putin may still be helpful

Annika Sost
March 28, 2024

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder says his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin could help end the war in Ukraine. He also called the prospect of an alleged nuclear attack by Putin nonsense.

Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during their meeting in Hamburg
Putin listens to German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in a 2004 meeting in HamburgImage: A. Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has said in an interview published Thursday that negotiations with Russian President Vladimir Putin could be the only way to end the war in Ukraine

"We have worked together sensibly for many years. Perhaps that can still help us find a negotiated solution; I don't see another solution," he told Germany's DPA news agency.

The former chancellor called speculation about Putin's nuclear strike or the possibility of Russia attacking a NATO country on the eastern flank "nonsense."

To prevent any escalation toward such scenarios and ease fears, serious consideration must be given to a peaceful solution in addition to support for Ukraine, Schröder said.

Why still friendly with Putin?

Schröder was asked why, despite tens of thousands of deaths and Russian war crimes in the Ukraine war, he still maintains a friendship with the Russian president. He replied by saying that the two matters were distinct. 

President Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder pictured toasting when they have come to the Old Weimar restaurant in the city center for dinner in April 2004
Schröder and Putin have been friends for decades Image: itar-Tass/Imago

Schröder said he did not want to forget the "positive events" with Putin. However, initially, it seemed that this personal relationship could also prove beneficial in addressing an extremely challenging political issue. 

"And that's why I think it would be completely wrong to forget all the positive events between us in politics in the past. That's not my style, and I don't do that either," said Schröder in the interview. 

He is referring to his mediation mission in March 2022, shortly after the Russian attack on Ukraine in February.

At that time, he first met the former Ukrainian parliamentarian and current Defense Minister Rustem Umerov in Istanbul before traveling to Moscow for talks with Putin. The initiative was not successful.

Schröder is now calling for a new attempt at mediation at national government level. He is urging France and Germany to take on the initiative.

"It is obvious that the war cannot end with the total defeat of one side or the other," the former chancellor said.

Schröder and Putin take an evening stroll along the shore of the Russian president's Black Sea summer residence in 2004
Schröder and Putin take an evening stroll along the shore of the Russian president's Black Sea summer residence in 2004Image: Jürgen Gebhardt/BPA/dpa/picture-alliance

How far back does the friendship go?

Schröder has been friends with Putin since he became the German chancellor in 1998. He attended the Russian president's birthday in 2014 in Moscow.

Two years earlier, in 2012, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had pointed to significant irregularities in the election. Putin was declared the winner and reassumed his role as Russian president after serving four years as prime minister. Schröder called him a "flawless democrat" back then.

The former chancellor continues to work for the majority-Russian companies of the Nord Stream pipelines through the Baltic Sea.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder photographed together in 2003
Schröder as chancellor in 2003 with Germany's current Chancellor Olaf Scholz as SPD General Secretary Image: Bernd Thissen/dpa/picture-alliance

Current German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has urged him to resign from all Russian firms two years ago.

Some members of Schröder's party, the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), ostracized him because of his continued relationship with Putin since the beginning of the war, but attempts to expel him from the party were unsuccessful.

This article was written based on material from the DPA news agency

Edited by: Richard Connor

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