Putin’s relationship with Germany’s ex-leader has created a new word for corruption

As Vladimir Putin returns to office for a fourth term, criticism is bubbling back up over former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s close relationship with the Russian president.

A spokesman for current chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday (March 19) had to reject the suggestion that the EU sanction Schroeder for supporting Putin while the German was chancellor, and then taking well-paid jobs by the Russian state after leaving office. Earlier in the day, Ukraine’s foreign minister Pavlo Klimkin had backed a call for sanctions made in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (paywall) during the weekend.

“It is important that there are sanctions against those who promote Putin’s projects abroad,” Klimkin told the German newspaper Bild. “Schroeder is the most important lobbyist for Putin worldwide. So it should be examined how the EU can act here.”

The two men’s relationship is so notorious that it has spawned a word used by political analysts and human rights activists in three languages: “Schroederization” in English, “Schröderisierung” in German, and “Schroederizatsia” (“Шрёдеризация”) in Russian. In English and Russian, “it means ‘the corruption of a political elite in another country,'” said Boris Reitschuster, a German former Moscow correspondent and author of Putin’s Hidden War, at PutinCon, a gathering of the world’s biggest Kremlin critics on March 16.

In German, the word seems to have extra nuances. While some use it to refer to corruption, one politician from Merkel’s Christian Democrats recently employed it to describe a closeness to the Kremlin. He appealed (link in German) to Schroeder’s old Social Democratic Party to not develop uncomfortably close ties to Moscow or help Kremlin propaganda, which he characterized a potential “Schroederization.”

The phrase has been attributed to Edward Lucas, a hawkish former Moscow correspondent for The Economist, but Lucas says former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves coined the word.

Schroeder and Putin go way back, first becoming close as two alpha-male European leaders in the early 2000s. Just before the German was ejected from office after losing his 2005 re-election campaign to Merkel, he gave Putin a parting gift: approval of the Kremlin’s controversial Nord Stream pipeline. The project directed Russian gas into Europe via Germany, upping Moscow’s leverage over the continent. (Russia had previously relied on a route through Ukraine, which was a source of various disputes between the two countries, often leading to Moscow temporarily shutting off the pipeline.) Straight after his election defeat, Schroeder took a well-remunerated job as chairman of the project. After its completion, he became chair of its second iteration, Nord Stream 2, and last year was named chairman of Russia’s state-owned oil giant Rosneft.

Bad bromance?

The two men share more than just a passion for Russian oil and gas expansion, though. They’ve long enjoyed having a good hug.

Like that time in April 2001.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder smile and embrace each other prior to their press conference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tuesday, April 10, 2001. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the dynamic cooperation between their two countries but failed to reach a solution on Russia's long-standing debt that has impeded even closer ties. An unidentied official is at center. (AP Photo/Yuri Kodobnov, pool)
(AP Photo/Yuri Kodobnov, pool)

And September 2001.

German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, left, hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin in the hall of  the Taschenberg palace at Dresden, eastern Germany, Thursday, Sept. 27, 2001.  Putin visited Germany for three days.  (AP Photo/Jan-Peter Kasper/POOL)
(AP Photo/Jan-Peter Kasper/pool)

And November 2001.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, left, and  Russian President Vladimir Putin hug each ather before their late evening talks on the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign in Moscow, Friday, Nov. 2, 2001. Schroeder arrived in Moscow on his way back to Germany from a trip to China, Pakistan and India. He and Putin met in a Russian government guest house near Vnukovo Airport.  Both Russia and Germany support the United States in its attacks against the Taliban as punishment for harboring Osama bin Laden, the main suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

And December 2001.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hugs German Chancellor Gerhard
Schroeder (R) after his arrival at Hanover airport December 9, 2001.
Putin and Schroeder meet to discuss the political situation in
Afghanistan and Middle East. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

(Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann)

The AP and Reuters have no documented hugs in 2002. But the news organizations caught Schroeder and Putin finding each other again in October 2003.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hugs German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during their meeting in the Yekaterinburg airport, about 1500 km (900 miles) east of Moscow, Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2003. Schroeder arrived in this Ural Mountains city Wednesday for two days of talks with Putin focused on strengthening economic and political cooperation between their nations.  (AP Photo/Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool)
(AP Photo/Sergei Ilnitsky, Pool)

And their wives awkwardly watching the two connect again in April 2004.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (2L) hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin as their wives Doris (L) and Lyudmila watch them during Schroeder's birthday party in Hanover April 16, 2004. Schroeder celebrated his 60th birthday on April 7. Picture Taken April 16, 2004. REUTERS/ITAR-TASS/KREMLIN PRESS SERVICE  CVI/CRB - RP4DRIGDJDAC

The two men found a furtive corner in July 2005.

Putin Schroeder hug
(Rueters/Arnd Wiegmann)

By October 2005, they’d got that walking side-hug down.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, right, hugs Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting in St. Petersburg, Russia, late Friday, Oct. 7, 2005. Schroeder met with Putin in his hometown of St. Petersburg Friday, as the German leader took a break from tough political coalition negotiations. (AP Photo/ ITAR-TASS/ Presidential Press Service, Vladimir Rodionov)
(ITAR-TASS/Vladimir Rodionov)

After Schroeder left office in November 2005, the press wasn’t around as much to document any potential embraces. But in 2014, just after Putin’s annexation of Crimea, the European Press Association snapped him giving Schroeder a cuddle in St Petersburg on the German’s 70th birthday. The German media wasn’t impressed.

epa04184207 Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) and former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (3rd R) meet in the Yusupovsky palace at a North Stream reception on the occasion of Schroeder's 70th birthday, in St. Petersburg, Russia, 28 April 2014.  EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV
(EPA/Anatoly Maltsev)

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