MOSCOW – Germany’s ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is a legend in Russia. He serves Gazprom’s interests for a measly couple of million euros a year, sits in at sessions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and writes books about his staunch friendship with “Genosse Wladimir,” who, in the not-so-distant past, earned himself the well-deserved nickname of “Stasi” among business circles in gangster-ridden St. Petersburg.
But it is not immediately obvious whether it is Schroeder licking Putin’s boots nowadays or vice versa. The two of them are building, or trying to build, the Nord Stream gas pipeline, an exceptionally costly project that satisfies twin strategic objectives. Demonstratively hostile to the interests of both Belarus and Ukraine, the pipeline is intended to ensure that these countries are under Russia’s energy thumb, regardless of who is in power in Minsk and Kiev.
As a bonus, the pipeline will also consolidate the Russian economy’s status as an appendage of Germany’s – its supplier of natural resources. Certain of Schroeder’s predecessors as German chancellor sought to attain the same objective by rather different means.
The Kremlin’s achievements in securing the help of Americans willing to offer their influence are equally impressive. Indeed, the Obama administration’s Russia policy is being nurtured with advice from people who have no official position in the administration but close business ties to Russia and the Kremlin: Henry Kissinger, James A. Baker, Thomas Graham, and Dimitri Simes. The first two are major geo-politicians; Graham and Simes are respected as outstanding Russia specialists. They write key reports for the administration, and shuttle between Moscow and Washington, coordinating the parameters of the Obama administration’s effort to “reset” the bilateral relationship.