Is Europe finally tired of politicians like Schröder making big money from Russia?
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western politicians and business leaders have rushed to quit their lucrative roles on Russian corporate boards in protest and to isolate the country in as a punishment for the war.
But not quite everyone.
Now a former German leader and Austrian foreign minister faces censorship for his continued ties to the Kremlin.
The European Parliament adopted on Thursday a package of measures which urges the European Union to sanction politicians who still receive huge sums of money from Russian companies.
Although the motion is not binding, its passage is an important step towards the sanctions introduced and sends a clear signal that the European community will no longer tolerate tacit support for President Vladimir Putin’s regime that has characterized much of the continent’s approach to the Kremlin for decades.
The motion targets former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a longtime friend of Putin, who is now facing mounting pressure to step down as chairman of the board of Russian oil giant Rosneft. He also mentions former Austrian foreign minister Karin Kneissl, also a board member of Rosneft, who invited Putin to her wedding in 2018.
The European Union has already sanctioned 80 companies and more than 1,000 individuals who now face travel bans and asset freezes or seizures in connection with the war.
“By holding senior positions in Kremlin-affiliated companies, former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are de facto cooperating closely with Russia,” he added. mentioned Markus Ferber, one of the members of the European Parliament who drafted the motion.
“Such behavior is unacceptable at a time when Russia is breaking international law and committing war crimes. We ask them to resign from their positions in Russian companies.
The pressure on Schröder is also mounting at home.
Germany’s coalition government said on Wednesday it would strip him of privileges granted to former chancellors, including a parliamentary office and his team of aides. This team, however, already resigned in protest in March.
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner said it was unthinkable that “a former chancellor who now openly does lobbying work for Vladimir Putin’s criminal regime is still being given a job by the taxpayers”, in a interview with World TV.
Schröder, 78, who ruled Germany from 1998 to 2005, earns $600,000 a year from Rosneft, according to company accounts for 2020, in addition to his state pension and salaries for his roles in the transnational Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline projects.
Some criticize Schröder for having contributed to increasing Germany’s dependence on Russian energy, a dependence that has now been dramatically and painfully reversed.
One of his last acts as chancellor was to endorse Nord Stream 2 – shortly before leaving office and taking up a job at Nord Stream AG, the company behind the now-suspended gas pipeline project .
Throughout the war, Russia earned about $1 billion a day from Western fossil fuel exports, according to Ukrainian officials, with Germany being its biggest customer.
Schröder has been heavily criticized for downplaying or questioning the impact of the war in Ukraine. He told the New York Times in April that although the war was a mistake, reports of atrocities in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha ‘must be investigated’, adding that such orders would not have come from Putin himself .
Other former world leaders, such as former Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and former Finnish Prime Minister Esko Aho, resigned from their board positions at major Russian companies on February 24, the day the invasion has begun. So far, Schröder has shown no signs of doing the same.
“I don’t do mea culpa,” he said in the interview. “It’s not my thing.”
NBC News has reached out to Schröder’s officer for comment.