The co-leader of Germany's Social Democratic party SPD has told the former chancellor Gerhard Schr der to hand over his party membership after he made clear in an interview that he had no intention to resign from his seats on the boards of Russian energy companies over the war in Ukraine.
Schr der, who was Germany's top of government from 1998 to 2005, is a member of the board of Russian oil company Rosneft and is chairman of the shareholder committee of the Nord Stream pipeline company.
A former and formerly successful chancellor, Saskia Esken, told German public broadcaster Deutschlandradio on Monday morning that it would have been necessary to step down from these positions. He hasn't followed that advice after Russia invaded Ukraine at the end of February, the SPD leadership sent a letter to Schr der asking him to relinquish his roles at Russian state-owned companies, which has reportedly gone unanswered.
Asked whether the ex-chancellor should hand in his membership of the centre-left party of the German leader, Olaf Scholz, Esken said he should. In an interview with the New York Times, the 78-year-old statesman-turned-lobbyist sounded stubbornly unrepentant over the link between German industry and Russian energy providers, which was broadly continued by his successor Angela Merkel, but has limited the ability of Europe's largest economy to meet Putin's military aggression with economic sanctions.
Schr der told the US broadsheet from his office in Hanover, north-western Germany, that he doesn't do mea culpa. It is not my thing. The Social Democrat suggested that he would resign from his board seats only if Russia would turn off gas deliveries to Germany, something he claimed won t happen. While describing the war in Ukraine as a mistake, Schr der appeared to defend his close friendship with Russia's president Vladimir Putin. The image people have of Putin is only half the truth he said.
Gerhard Schr der has acted as an elder statesman for several years and we should stop perceiving him as an elder statesman, an ex-chancellor said Esken, a leftwinger who has risen to co-leader of the SPD from fringes of the party that are largely unconnected to Schr der's old network.
He earns his money through his work for Russian state companies and his defence of Vladimir Putin against the accusation of war crimes is downright absurd. Even after chancellor Scholz heralded an epochal turn in Germany's post-war approach to military spending, the SPD's traditional belief in a Wandel by Handel change through trade policy of rapprochement towards Russia has been under intense scrutiny in recent weeks.
Some Green party and liberal Free Democratic party FDP, which make up Scholz's coalition government, have openly accused the leader of stalling on heavy weapons deliveries to Ukraine in order to appease his party's old guard.
The conservative Christian Democratic Union CDU is threatening to submit a motion on weapons exports that could expose more cracks in their power-sharing alliance, as the three parties are under pressure to deal over their differences at a coalition committee meeting on Tuesday.