Ex-Chancellor Schröder defends Putin in Helsinki
Former German leader calls for continuity of Ostpolitik and construction of undersea pipeline
Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is adhering to his claim from a few years aback, according to which Vladimir Putin is a good democrat.
"I have not changed my characterisation of the Russian President, and I will not take my words back", Schröder said at a press conference in Helsinki on Monday.
Schröder also refused to go retract a statement that had angered Estonia, according to which the removal of the Soviet-era statue of a soldier from the centre of Tallinn was "tasteless and disrespectful".
"The statue depicts a soldier mourning his dead comrades", Schröder said in Helsinki. "Those who know history know that these soldiers fell in a battle that brought liberation from German fascism. That is why I have my own views of the action taken [in Estonia]."
Following Schröder's criticism on April 27th, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip cancelled a planned meeting with Schröder, formally because of a shortage of time.
In Helsinki Schröder promoted the current natural gas pipeline project. He is the chairman of the shareholders' association of the Russian-German company Nord Stream, which is planning to set up an undersea gas pipeline.
In November 2004, when he was still the German Chancellor, Schröder amazed television viewers by giving an affirmative answer when asked by an interviewer if considered Putin a "model democrat".
On Monday, Schröder gave historical reasons for his view. He noted that because of the Tsarist regime and subsequently because of communism, Russia was not experienced in democracy. He said that under Boris Yeltsin Russia was "an open society, but the state began to break apart".
Addressing the annual meeting of the German-Finnish Chamber of Commerce, Schröder even hinted that Russia, a country with nuclear weapons, could have turned into a failed state in the 1990s, with dire consequences for Europe.
"Democracy is impossible without functioning structures of state", Schröder said at his press conference.
"That is why Putin's task is to restore the state to its rightful place as a guarantor of the future of the citizens and security."
While admitting that mistakes had been made in Russia, Schröder praised Putin's achievements, saying that economically as well as in domestic and foreign policy, he had turned Russia onto the "road of stability and reliability".
Schröder lashed out at what he sees as a "wrong and even dangerous view" that a distance should be taken to Russia and that it should be seen as an adversary.
In his view, Finland and Germany are actually obligated to continue "the Ostpolitik of Urho Kekkonen and Willy Brandt", and to build close and trusting relations between Russia and the EU.
He also felt that supporting the gas pipeline is the obligation of every EU member state.