The Washington Post has a hard-hitting editorial today on former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's new job working for the Russian Government. The editorial is titled "Gerhard Schroeder's Sellout". "What?" you say. "Yes", Gerhard Schroeder, champion of Russia, ignorer of Russian democratic suppression, France's tool in its Atlantic spat with America, is going to work for Gazprom, the Russian state-owned oil firm.
"To make the decision even more unpalatable, it turns out that the chief executive of the pipeline consortium is none other than a former East German secret police officer who was friendly with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, back when Mr. Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany. If nothing else, Mr. Schroeder deserves opprobrium for his bad taste.
But the announcement should also raise questions in German voters' minds about the real reasons Mr. Schroeder was so keen to see this pipeline project launched. The pipeline has cost Germany diplomatically by infuriating its Central European and Baltic neighbors. They point out that the Russian government chose to use the sea route rather than run a new pipeline alongside one that already exists on land, despite the far greater expense. The only possible reason for doing so was political: The Baltic Sea pipeline could allow Russia, a country that has made political use of its energy resources, to cut off gas to Central Europe and the Baltic states while still delivering gas to Germany. Many have wondered why Germany chose to go along with this project. Could it have been because the former chancellor realized that he was, in effect, creating his own future place of employment?"
Is it possible that Schroeder's anti-US Iraq position was personally motivated to curry favor with Vladimir Putin? We may never know. But the whole story raises a great deal of "what if" questions on a global scale.
The Economist has many good articles on Gazprom and questions whether it is a company or an extension of the state. This October 6th, 2005 article, "Russia's Energetic Enigma" explains Gazprom's influence.
"According to the scuttle-butt, Vladimir Putin has a plan for when his second and—as Russia's constitution requires—last presidential term expires in 2008. Rather than changing the constitutional rules or becoming prime minister, Mr Putin may become boss of Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly.
The rumour is as telling as it may turn out to be fanciful. Gazprom is a leviathan. Last week, it agreed to buy most of Sibneft, the country's fifth-biggest oil firm, in what will be the biggest takeover in Russian history. But Gazprom's gas resources are already so big that its new subsidiary barely disturbs the company's profile. Gas will still constitute 90% of its production next year. One Moscow investment bank calculates that for oil to account for half of its output, Gazprom would have to buy the entire Russian oil industry. Last year, Gazprom produced 20% of the world's gas. It has 60% of Russia's gas reserves and 16% of the world's. If it were a country, its oil and gas reserves combined would rank only behind Saudi Arabia's and Iran's."
If I were a German I would be extremely angry and would demand answers. The Russo-German alliance never made sense from a historical paradigm of Germany's self-interest in Europe. Gerhard Schroeder's sellout doesn't in itself provide the answer, but it does lead to plenty of questions and adds one more scandal to Germany's post-Cold War history of chancellors. And Mr. Schroeder's decision could prove far more damaging to the world order than former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's financial scandal.