On September 8 in Moscow, former German chancellor and current Gazprom official Gerhard Schroeder launched the Russian edition of his memoirs, courtesy again of Gazprom. Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister and Gazprom chairman Dmitry Medvedev contributed the preface to the memoirs’ Russian edition and acted as host at the book launch. The Kremlin’s top political consultants, Gleb Pavlovsky and Vyacheslav Nikonov, delivered supportive comments on foreign policy issues alongside Schroeder in front of Russian and international media.
Schroeder and his hosts used the occasion to send a message to the European Union ahead of next month’s EU-Russia summit. It will be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s final summit with the EU, and he clearly wants a summit on his terms.
Postulating that a “democratic process” is ongoing in Russia, Schroeder urged “Germany and Europe to support this internal process without conditions or reservations.” Whether he knew it or not, Russian authorities were on that same day (Interfax, September 8) launching events to mark the 130th anniversary of the birth of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the institutional founding father of Russia’s main ruling group today.
Schroeder depicted the EU as being about to “fall hostage to the nationalist anti-Russian interests of certain member countries. The EU must reject such narrow-minded nationalist interests in order to avoid damaging the development of its relations with Russia. It sometimes is in Europe’s interest to forget about the interests of some individual countries,” he advised, alluding to the EU’s new member countries, but failing to explain what constitutes an “anti-Russian policy.”
Schroeder cited Poland as a country “that can damage Germany’s relations with Russia.” He thereby suggested that Germany ought to separate itself from EU policy when the latter treats Polish concerns as EU issues in EU-Russia negotiations. This advice implicitly criticized German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for Poland on such issues as Russia’s embargo on Polish meat products, which became one of the tests of EU-Russia political relations. The EU’s German presidency under Merkel listed the demand to lift that embargo among the prerequisites to signing a new EU-Russia framework agreement, in place of the existing one that is about to expire.
Schroeder criticized U.S. plans to station elements of an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic as “superfluous and dangerous” and apt to “trigger an arms race”; but he failed to explain why or how. In line with Moscow’s position, he urged Europeans to call for abandonment of this plan. He also echoed Russia’s insistence that the Kosovo conflict be handled “only in consensus among all interested parties . . . only through a lengthy negotiating process.” In practice, this would freeze the situation, enabling Moscow and Belgrade to block U.S., EU, and NATO decisions indefinitely.
As could be expected in his current capacity as chairman of the Russo-German gas pipeline project, Schroeder addressed energy issues at some length. Observing that critics of Russian state control over the energy sector see nothing wrong with the state’s role in Norway, he condemned the critics for “double standards,” claiming that the two situations were comparable. In a similar vein, Schroeder urged “European countries to open their internal energy [distribution] markets to acquisitions by Russian companies, exactly as Russia is open to European companies to develop Russia’s energy reserves.” This “reciprocity” doctrine, championed by Gazprom and lingering in Russia-oriented German circles, is losing credibility in most of Europe, thanks to the Kremlin’s recent confiscatory measures against Western energy companies in Russia.
The doctrine of “reciprocity” or “mutual dependence” in the sphere of energy has its parallel in the foreign-policy doctrine of “convergence through interlocking” with Russia at the institutional level. Both concepts are legacies of the Schroeder government’s final phase (until 2005); but are clearly on the wane, as the incompatibility with Russia in terms of values and interests gains widespread recognition in Europe. At the Moscow event, the former chancellor tried to boost German Minister of Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeyer’s “convergence-through-interlocking” approach to relations with Russia. As Schroeder’s closest political associate, Steinmeyer tried in vain to turn this doctrine into EU policy during the German presidency in the first half of 2007. Nor has it become the policy of Germany’s coalition government, in which Steinmeyer serves under Merkel. Thus, Schroeder’s urge from Moscow seemed out of date and almost forlorn.
Medvedev demonstrated awareness of this fact at the Moscow event when he expressed “real worry that Germany is no longer a bridge” between Russia and the West. During Schroeder’s chancellorship, Moscow had hoped to see Germany move toward such equidistance. This is no longer in the cards; but it can become a medium-term possibility if Germany’s energy dependence on Russia keeps growing disproportionately.
At this stage, Schroeder looks more like a sinecure-holder than an effective asset for Russian policies in Germany or Europe. He seemed indirectly to acknowledge this fact at the Moscow event when complimenting Russia as “a country with which I am tied both politically and personally.”
(Interfax, Itar-Tass, September 8, 9; EU Observer, September 10)