SPD and Russia: hardliners, old strategists and free radicals

To analyse

Status: 01/31/2022 3:56 p.m

Détente politicians, hardliners and ex-top politicians with controversial opinions: the differences in attitude towards Russia within the SPD could hardly be greater.

By Georg Schwarte, ARD Capital Studio

Understanding of Russia: A word with a very special ring to it for social democrats these days. At least since the former chancellor and lobbyist for Gazprom, Gerhard Schröder, told his party how well he understands Russia. “I don’t think the Russian side is interested in intervening in Ukraine,” Schröder said in a 26-minute podcast. The problem: It’s no longer just the Social Democrats who are asking themselves: What is Schröder’s interest and what does the SPD actually stand for on the Russia question?

George Schwarte
ARD Capital Studio

Schroeder and the SPD. For more than 16 years, there has been a male friendship between the former Chancellor and the Social Democrats, including a lobbyist contract. Schroeder and Putin. To this day, many comrades are embarrassed to remain silent about the fact that the 77-year-old former chancellor earns millions as a Gazprom lobbyist. “I wouldn’t have done that,” was the maximum level of criticism that Peter Struck, head of the parliamentary group, could think of at the time – in December 2005 – about Schröder’s job as a lobbyist at Gazprom.

Schröder makes the camel overflow

Now, at the height of the Ukraine crisis, it is once again the former SPD chancellor, the man they claim to be able to understand Putin, who is publicly disturbing. For example, when he accuses the Ukraine of “saber rattling” and acknowledges the Ukrainian blame for the lack of arms deliveries from Germany with the remark: “That knocks the bottom out of the barrel.” For the vast majority of Social Democrats, however, Schröder is the last straw.

How does the SPD feel about Russia? The external and internal irritation is so great that SPD leader Lars Klingbeil has now invited to an internal retreat. It is about nothing less than the question of which of the numerous schools of thought within the SPD will ultimately prevail.

Hardliners and old strategists

There are the more conservative Russia-critical hardliners: Michael Roth, ex-minister of state, and Nils Schmid, the group’s foreign policy spokesman. They ask for plain text. Her motto is to make it clear to the public what sanctions are on the table. “Ukraine is not threatened in any abstract way,” says Roth, pointing to Moscow. Putin is not primarily afraid of NATO soldiers. He is afraid of the power of freedom and democracy.

Next up is the camp of old strategists: faction leader Rolf Mützenich, head of the German-Russian forum Matthias Platzeck. Integrating Russia into a new European security architecture that will replace NATO in the long term is the creed of the old-school politicians of détente, which not a few in the SPD adhere to.

interests and free radicals

There is the third party – with the economic interests of their own state behind them – the powerful Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig. She wants the gas pipeline, she wants the business, and recently even founded a so-called climate foundation together with millions from Gazprom, which chartered its own ship to help finish building the pipeline.

And then there are the free radicals. Former Chancellor Schröder and ex-SPD leader Sigmar Gabriel, who throw stones into the water from the edge and see what kind of circles it draws. Ex-Foreign Minister Gabriel, who was deprived of his foreign office by Vice-Chancellor Scholz, among others, now attests to his party’s unrecognizable status as President of the Atlantic Bridge on the Russia question. “The price of war in Europe must be clear,” says Gabriel reproachfully. The Russians should know that. But many who look at the SPD these days no longer know exactly what this party represents as Russia policy.

Irritation at the coalition partner

The cacophony, including the Chancellor’s lack of depth of field – for example when it comes to the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, party leader Klingbeil wants to moderate. Many could express themselves, he says. “But we decide, as the current SPD leadership, together with Chancellor Olaf Scholz,” said the party leader in the ARD. That should sound determined. The smaller coalition partner, the Greens, but there are initial irritations. “It’s no help for the foreign minister or the chancellor if there’s a feeling outside that the Germans don’t agree,” said the newly elected leader of the Greens, Omid Nouripour.

Former Chancellor Schröder, meanwhile, is still on a collision course with his party and chafed that not everyone who considers himself to be a foreign policy strategist.

Next Monday, the chancellor will be able to see for himself how extensive the potential crop damage is in the US ally. That’s when Olaf Scholz is, where no Social Democrat has been for a long time: on his inaugural visit as a guest in US President Biden’s Oval Office.

Many can speak – SPD crisis meeting on Russia course

Georg Schwarte, ARD Berlin, January 31, 2022 2:49 p.m


Leave a Comment