Europe

Anger as German ex-chancellor Schroeder heads up Rosneft board

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, newly elected chairman of the board of directors of Russia's oil giant Rosneft, speaks at a briefing in Saint Petersburg on Friday Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some Germans suspect Mr Schroeder of trying to promote Russian interests in Germany

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is facing a backlash after being elected chairman of the Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft.

The appointment deepens his controversial links with Moscow. He has long been friends with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The West imposed sanctions on Rosneft after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

The chair of the German parliament's foreign affairs committee said Mr Schroeder's move was "unbelievable".

German news provider Deutsche Welle quoted Norbert Roettgen as saying Mr Schroeder was "cashing in" on his former role as chancellor.

Back in August, Mr Schroeder was criticised by Chancellor Angela Merkel when he was nominated to join the Rosneft board. On Friday, shareholders voted to back his nomination.

What's the background to this story?

Mr Schroeder was chancellor from 1998 to 2005 - but his links with Russia go back almost as far.

As chancellor, he was a staunch backer of plans for a pipeline to be built between Russia and Germany by the Nord Stream consortium, and an agreement was signed in his last days in office. Once out of office, he became chairman of the Nord Stream shareholders' committee.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Mr Schroeder has had a long friendship with Vladimir Putin - the two pictured here in 2005 at the end of his chancellorship

As such, he also works closely with Russia's other energy giant, Gazprom, and last year he became chairman of the board of directors at Nord Stream 2, a Gazprom subsidiary.

He has long been friends with President Putin - in 2014 they were pictured embracing at Mr Schroeder's 70th birthday party. Mr Schroeder also opposed the sanctions over Crimea.

But what's the problem?

This all sits increasingly uncomfortably in Germany, where there has been deepening public distrust of the Russian state.

There have been fears that Russia could try to undermine German democracy since Russian hackers were accused of targeting German lawmakers in 2015.

Mr Roettgen accuses Mr Schroeder of trying to increase German energy dependence on Russia.

Deutsche Welle also reports that members of Mr Schroeder's former party, the Social Democrats (SPD), feared he could have contributed to their disastrous showing in recent federal elections. It describes party members as "incensed".

What does Mr Schroeder say?

He defends Rosneft, saying last month some of his critics simply wanted to ignite a new Cold War: "Imagine if I had been proposed not for a Rosneft board position but for Exxon in America. Nobody would ask my true motives.

"It is the largest oil company in the world, with important links to Germany. 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," he said, according to Reuters.

He has also indicated he will take only a fraction of the salary the new position would normally attract.

More on this story