Two interviews, no regrets: talking about Putin’s Russia with a former German chancellor

I brought the conversation back to the war, which he condemned but also nuanced.

“We have this situation, which I must say is not just one-sided,” he said.

I had heard that a lot in Germany—“it’s not one-sided”—especially among my own parents’ friends. The idea that NATO had cornered Russia after the reunification of Germany and Europe was not so rare in Germany before the war.

Even now, as the fighting rages on, some of Mr. Schröder’s views on the need to give Mr. Putin a face-saving tool are openly expressed. My eye doctor recently said to me, “Let’s give him what he needs, for God’s sake, so we can end this war.

Germany’s relationship with Russia is complicated, rooted in both centuries of cultural exchange and a history of traumatic warfare, which has contributed to a Russian policy that has been alternately described as romantic blindness or appeasement to eyes open.

In Mr Schröder’s desk, prominently displayed, is a birthday letter from revered former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, another social democrat, dated April 4, 2014, less than two months after Crimea was annexed by Russia, praising Mr Schröder’s legacy as chancellor, not least for “demonstrating his understanding of the needs of our powerful neighbor Russia”.

The day before my article was published, I had a final phone call with Mr. Schröder to go over some factual questions. Before hanging up, I told him it wouldn’t be a piece of puff pastry.

“You can be critical as long as you’re fair,” he said.

When the article was published online on April 23, it was picked up by all major German media. The reactions were quick.

Comments are closed.