So far, 2023 has turned out to be a great year for Germany’s most ill-suited (but best-dressed) elder statesman, Gerhard Schröder.
An arbitration commission has just ruled that he won’t be booted out of the Social Democratic Party (SPD), ruling that Schröder’s unwavering Putin-paldom is neither dishonourable nor in conflict with intra-party solidarity. The decision seems coherent as the party has long extended its solidarity to Russia.
For Schröder, there’s even more reason to celebrate: The Ernährungsplan (diet) devised by his Instagrammable wife No 5, Soyeon Schröder-Kim, does work wonders!
Her 78-year-old hubby has visibly lost a few pounds, looking younger and energised. With his collar size shrinking, he seems to have let go of collars completely – the latest pics from Zurich show the fashionista in pink (t-shirt) and blue (velvet suit).
Schröder’s slimmed-down look is down to a mix of oatmilk, oat flakes, fish, fruit, yoghurt, walnuts, pistachios, goji and other berries, cocoa nibs, plenty of veggies as well as the indispensable sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds (all stored in glass jars with customised “Gerhard & Soyeon” tags). On Instagram you can watch him cook artichokes in steamy pots.
Another triumph for Schröder came in the courts. A non-profit organisation sued to force answers from his office regarding Schröder’s lobbying for the Russian energy companies Gazprom and Rosneft, and for Nordstream 2, the exploded gas pipeline-turned playground for shellfish. But the courts ruled that there simply was no office that could respond: Schröder’s staffers quit last year, just before the Bundestag stripped him of his official rooms and crew.
Schröder’s lifestyle now very much follows the maxim of German poet Wilhelm Busch: “Once your reputation is in tatters, the opinion of others hardly matters”.
It’s not just his reputation though: Schröder’s Russophilia throws a shadow as large as Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. The north-eastern coastal state bordering Poland is where NordStream 2 meets shore.
Just before its completion, NordStream 2 was jeopardised by US sanctions which meant that Gazprom, Nordstream and their subsidiaries couldn’t buy the equipment and technology that it needed.
So in 2021, state premier Manuela Schwesig (SPD) did what she had to do: set up a shell company by the seashore. She requested the establishment of the non-profit Climate and Environmental Protection Foundation, whose sole purpose seems to have been to funnel money and place orders for tools and machinery to circumvent US sanctions. The foundation basically acted as Moscow’s general contractor in Germany and Europe.
Around 80 companies shifted from dealing with NordStream to work as subcontractors of the foundation. The order volume totalled £144m.
Today, amid calls for her (unlikely) resignation, premier Schwesig still insists that the foundation acted wholly independently from the government. But in truth, she allowed a pipeline to be built by master strategist Vlad straight into her government, aided by the ex-chancellor and his friends. Most prominently among them, Schröder-buddy Matthias Warnig, the ex-Stasi agent who supposedly made friends with Putin back in his spy days in Dresden and served as head of NordStream 2 until its insolvency.
Warnig and Schwesig met several times and Gazprom subsequently donated £17.5m to the “foundation”. Nothing was ever put in writing, duh, but Schwesig now claims the money was only ever intended for non-profit work – creating seagrass meadows in the Baltic Sea. You may find this as credible as Boris Johnson’s assertion that the Tories “do not raise money from Russian oligarchs.”
The generous donation is now part of a criminal and parliamentary inquiry, because no taxes were ever paid. Fun fact: when a tax official found documents relating to that £17.5m gift that had seemingly disappeared, rather than handing them in, she disappeared them by burning the 1cm pile of paper in her fireplace. German efficiency.
In all fairness, both the shell company and Mecklenburg’s government were working for the Kremlin in plain sight, promoted by both the SPD and the CDU, who believed NordStream 2 to be in Germany’s national interest. A vast majority of Germans thought so, too.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Schwesig has tried to shut down the Climate Foundation, and everyone’s little embarrassed of what was once thought of a clever way to put the US in its place.
Everyone, but a stoically unembarrassed Schröder. The only thing he might worry about is his marriage: The last time one of his wives banned him from Currywurst, it ended in divorce.