Monday, September 14, 2020

The network of german social democratic politicians supporting Nord Stream 2

 The poisoning of Alexei Navalny sparked a debate about the future of contentious gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2. German newspaper "WELT" has traced back the key players in the political sphere who have initiated and backed this project from the beginning. Pivot of this milieu are former german chancellor Gerhard Schröder and former Stasi operative Matthias Warnig.

"On this solemn day, no one is as close to Russia's center of power as two Germans. In the magnificent Andreas Hall of the Kremlin they stand directly in front of Vladimir Putin, behind them the rest of the 5,000 invited guests. The President will begin his fifth term at the ceremony in May 2018. One of the German listeners before him is very prominent, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.
The second is less well known: Matthias Warnig, head of the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline. Only two guests got similarly good seats in the magnificent Kremlin hall: Russia's Prime Minister and the Russian Orthodox Patriarch.
This picture is more than a snapshot. It's a symbol. For the technology of Putin's rule and for the mechanics of German-Russian relations. The president's influence rests on a network of friends with whom he has allied throughout his life. Thanks to Putin, they came to power.


It is a network of loyalty that extends beyond the Russian borders. A particularly stable strand of loyalty and friendship leads to Germany - and it is inextricably linked with the two German-Russian Baltic Sea pipelines Nord Stream 1 and 2.
The two projects weathered even the most violent political storms for over two decades. They defied massive resistance from Germany's European partners. Even when the EU, led by Angela Merkel, punished the annexation of Crimea with sanctions in 2014, the gas continued to flow.
Only one year later, the contract for the follow-up project Nord Stream 2 was signed. Under Donald Trump, the US ultimately called for the new pipeline to end. Berlin and Moscow continued to build.
After the poisoning of the Russian opposition activist Alexej Navalny, who is being treated at the Berlin Charité, the Chancellor hardly concealed accusations against the Russian government. And said at the same time that Nord Stream 2 had to be "uncoupled" from the attempted poisoning.
The Chancellor sticks to the formula that Nord Stream is an "economic project". There has hardly ever been a project that is so political. The two pipelines owe their existence to a German-Russian friendship network at the highest political level.
The first connection in the network came about in 1991 when two men met in the city hall of Saint Petersburg: Matthias Warnig and Vladimir Putin. The German explored the virgin Russian market for Dresdner Bank and wanted to open a representative office in Saint Petersburg for the bank. Vice Mayor Vladimir Putin was responsible for the approval.
The two men have a lot in common. They are of a similar age and both have children whom they had at a young age. And until the end of the Cold War, they had the same job: They spied for their country's secret service.
Vladimir Putin had made a career with the KGB and was stationed as an agent in Dresden. Warnig was a Stasi agent - and in the 1980s he was temporarily stationed with his family in Düsseldorf. Both states, which the men had served convincingly and faithfully for years, suddenly no longer existed.
Putin and Warnig became close friends. After Putin's then wife Lyudmila suffered a traffic accident, Warnig made sure that she was flown to a clinic in Germany for treatment at Dresdner Bank's expense.
At the turn of the millennium, the German suddenly became the friend of the most powerful man in Russia. The new president set about breaking the political power of the oligarchs who, under Boris Yeltsin, had become powerful, barely controllable princes in the state.
For Putin, this also meant regaining control of the country's oil and gas. The oligarchs had a choice: either they submitted to the Kremlin, or they were de facto expropriated like the richest of them, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.
The main role in the energy business was soon no longer played by the private magnates, but by two state-owned companies: Gazprom for natural gas and Rosneft for oil. There Putin filled the key positions with companions from his time with the KGB and in Saint Petersburg. For all other companies it was the same: Without the blessing of the Kremlin, nothing in the raw materials business would work.
The Baltic Sea pipelines also function according to these principles. The majority is held by Gazprom, headed by Alexei Miller, an old Putin confidante from Saint Petersburg. German or other European companies who want to participate receive a minority share and have to play according to the rules of the Kremlin.
The next friendship between men began in 2000, this time between Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Here, too, the professional is only the basis of a connection that extends far into the private sphere - and is designed to last, even if the current situation changes. 
The Baltic Sea pipeline is a kind of symbol of this friendship: It is intended to connect Germany and Russia, regardless of the political cycle.
Putin and Schröder persistently pushed the pipeline project forward during the five years in which they were simultaneously the most powerful men in their countries. In 2005 Schröder lost the general election. But ten days before the polls, the German chancellor and Russia's president sealed the agreement to build Nord Stream. Angela Merkel came into a difficult legacy.
Putin had to accept the democratic change of power, at least in Germany. But he did everything to secure Nord Stream for the post-Schröder era. In December, just three months after being voted out of office, Schröder became chairman of the new pipeline's supervisory board.
It soon became clear who would be CEO of the Nord Stream Group. It was determined at a meeting of Vladimir Putin and Gerhard Schröder with German and Russian managers in Moscow. The then Daimler manager Klaus Mangold, who is still an important hub in the German-Russian network of relationships, was also there.
When it came to the question of who should manage Nord Stream, Mangold recalled in an interview with “Die Zeit”, that at some point Vladimir Putin spoke up. There is one person, Putin said, who he would trust with this task: Matthias Warnig.
Since then, Warnig is seldom far when Schröder and Putin meet. In 2010 the trio dined on the eve of Putin's visit to Merkel in the restaurant that Warnig's son ran in Berlin-Schöneberg at the time.
In 2014, at the height of the Crimean crisis, photos of a warm hug between Schröder and Putin caused outrage in Germany. The President had come to Saint Petersburg for a reception on the occasion of Schröder's 70th birthday. The host was Matthias Warnig, he can be seen clearly in the controversial photos.
But the trio is just the center of the network that defends the pipeline. Numerous lines emanate from them. About Rainer Seele, head of the German-Russian Chamber of Commerce. He drove Nord Stream 1 forward as the top manager of the BASF subsidiary Wintershall. Today he is the head of the Austrian OMV group, which Seele brought on board for Nord Stream 2.
Another line leads to Heino Wiese, ex-SPD member of the Bundestag, who today has the title of “Honorary Consul of the Russian Federation in Hanover”. He is one of the busiest lobbyists at the interface between the two countries.
Until recently, Wiese was also on the board of the German-Russian Forum, a central organization for networking between Germany and Russia. The forum is chaired by the former Prime Minister of Brandenburg and SPD leader Matthias Platzeck.
In an interview with the Russian newspaper “Izvestia”, he called Nord Stream a “clean business” and attacked the US sharply for its action against the pipeline.
The former Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Erwin Sellering, is one of the many SPD politicians with an affinity for Russia. In 2014, he countered the EU sanctions on Russia when he organized the first “Russia Day”, a German-Russian business meeting, in Rostock. This has taken place regularly since then.
After leaving politics, Sellering founded the German-Russian Partnership Association. As its chairman, he attacked the Chancellor in the Navalny case this week, barely encrypted: “In truth, the course of events and the background are completely unclear,” he wrote in a guest article for the newspaper “Nordkurier”. "Mistrust, aggressiveness and threats of punishment do not create a climate in which our work can flourish."
His successor and party member Manuela Schwesig, who inherited Sellering in 2017, kept Russia Day and appeared alongside Russian top managers.
Dialogue with Russia, end of sanctions, sticking to the pipeline - that is the triad that can always be heard at events such as Russia Day. These are positions that politicians from the Left Party and the AfD firmly represent.
But that's accompanying music, loud, but not very relevant. “The alternative for Germany has given Nord Stream and Russia full loyalty,” writes Danish journalist Jens Høvsgaard in “Greed, Money and Gas”, a book about the political background to the pipeline.
“Still, the Kremlin and Putin prefer the SPD. Nobody does better lobby work for Russian positions in Germany and the EU than the Social Democrats, and nobody does that better than the circle around the former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. " 
The former chancellor was not deterred by Russia's policy between 2005 and 2020 and did not move a millimeter away from Vladimir Putin. War in Georgia, Ukraine, Syria? Cyber ​​attacks in Europe and the USA? Poisoning regime critics? Schröder reacts with a smiling shrug.
He often seems to enjoy the outrage that his proximity to the Kremlin regularly arouses. This was the case in 2017, when he took over the chairmanship of the supervisory board of the state-owned Rosneft group, Gazprom's petroleum counterpart - despite the EU sanctions against the company. At that time, however, Schröder was not the first German on the supervisory body. Matthias Warnig had been there for years.
A line of the German-Russian network also leads to Schalke 04. Gazprom has been the main sponsor of the Bundesliga club since 2006. It all started when the then Schalke President Clemens Tönnies, plagued by financial difficulties, wrote a letter to Gerhard Schröder.
He allegedly only told the club boss to call Gazprom boss and Putin intimate partner Alexei Miller. Shortly afterwards, Gazprom and the traditional club signed the most lucrative Bundesliga advertising deal to date.
As a result, Tönnies also established friendly ties with Putin. But after the Corona scandal in his slaughterhouses, Tönnies had to resign as Schalke supervisory board chairman. In the course of the subsequent restructuring, a new member moved into Schalke's control committee. His name: Matthias Warnig."


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