Russian President Vladimir Putin can be hard on his enemies—just ask Hillary Clinton. But he can be very, very good to his friends.
Gerhard Schroeder, the man who Angela Merkel succeeded as Chancellor of Germany, has just been appointed to the chairman’s job at oil company Rosneft.
Rosneft isn’t just any oil company: It’s the largest publicly-listed oil producer, by volume, in the world, controlled by the Russian state. Since 2014, it’s been under U.S. and European sanctions, the idea being that sanctions will stop Rosneft from investing and growing its influence any further. (Actually, if anything, the reverse is true—the company escaped any consequences for triggering a banking crisis in Russia at the end of 2014 with its foreign debt repayments, and it has since swallowed Bashneft, one of the last remaining oil producers of size outside of its empire.)
The appointment of Schroeder is, however, quite clearly meant to expand Rosneft’s influence, by putting his extensive political contacts in Europe’s most important country at its disposal.
Schroeder has already proved his worth at gas monopoly Gazprom which, like Rosneft, is more an instrument of Russian state policy than a public company. Schroeder has chaired the Gazprom-led Nord Stream consortium which operates an existing gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea from Russia to Germany, and is in the process of building another one. Critics of the project say it serves Germany’s energy interests at the expense of its European neighbors’. But Nord Stream has somehow managed to emerge unscathed from a decade-long argument between Gazprom and the EU, even though the EU struck down a rival project that would have supplied south-eastern Europe on the grounds that it gave Gazprom a dangerous dominance in Europe’s gas market.
According to Die Zeit, Schroeder will be paid just under 300,000 euros a year ($350,000) for his work at Rosneft, a tad more than the €250,000 he used to get at Nord Stream. He also collects a monthly pension of 7,750 euros a month as a former chancellor, and the German state covers the cost of his office in Berlin (561,000 euros a year, according to Der Spiegel).
Despite his official retirement from German politics, Schroeder has never stopped making his views about German-Russian relations known. In August, he told the Swiss paper Blick that the West should accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea and focus on improving relations through other issues. Merkel, by contrast, has pursued a much harder line on Russia since its intervention in Ukraine.