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Germany’s Schröder remains in the ruling party despite Putin connections

#Germanys #Schröder #remains #ruling #party #Putin #connections

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder escaped a humiliating expulsion from his party on Monday as the ruling Social Democrats (SPD) determined his ties to Vladimir Putin were not against their rules.

Schröder, 78, has come under increasing criticism for his ongoing friendship with Putin and his ties to Russian energy companies since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

The SPD branch in Hanover, where his membership is registered, opened a hearing in July to consider 17 motions by local and state branches against his membership of the party.

But the former chancellor was “not guilty of violating party rules because no violation can be proven,” the branch said in a statement on Monday.

The decision can be appealed, but legal experts say there are high hurdles to expelling members.

Schröder, Chancellor from 1998 to 2005, refused to turn his back on the Russian President despite the war in Ukraine.

With his attitude, he has become embarrassing for the SPD, which is also the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

He was also widely criticized for holding a number of lucrative posts at Russian energy giants, and it was only after widespread public pressure that Schröder gave up his seat on the board of Russian energy company Rosneft in May.

Later he also announced that he would not join Gazprom’s Supervisory Board as originally planned.

Germany’s parliament in May scrapped some of the perks Schroeder was entitled to as a senior statesman, stripping him of an office and staff.

But Schroeder, who was Angela Merkel’s immediate predecessor, remained defiant and met with Putin in Moscow in July.

– “Bad for our country” –

In an interview after the visit, he claimed that Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war – comments Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called “disgusting”.

Schröder has also urged Berlin to reconsider its position on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which has been completed but has been blocked by the German government ahead of the invasion of Ukraine.

Opposition MP Thorsten Frei of the CDU said on Monday that the decision not to exclude him was “bad for the SPD, but also bad for our whole country”.

“This decision comes as a surprise to me. And it’s also pretty incredible given what we’ve seen from Gerhard Schröder over the past few weeks and months,” he told Die Welt.

SPD leader Lars Klingbeil said the move by the Hanover state association was a purely legal decision and that Schröder was “isolated” within the SPD because of his offices.

The German SPD has historically championed close ties with Russia, born out of the “Ostpolitik” of rapprochement and dialogue with the then Soviet Union pioneered by former SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt in the 1970s.

Senior SPD members, including current President Frank-Walter Steinmeier – a former foreign minister – have faced increasing scrutiny since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A survey for the daily newspaper Bild on Sunday showed that the SPD only reached 19 percent – behind the conservatives with 27 percent and the Greens with 21 percent in third place.

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