MOSCOW. (Igor Maksimychev, for RIA Novosti)
Gerhard Schroeder has been finally elected to chair the committee of stockholders of the North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP), which in a few years will reliably supply West and North Europe with Russian gas fields.
As always, Schroeder was accorded a hearty welcome in Russia. Before the NEGP Russian-German consortium stockholders meeting, he had visited the cold and remote gas-producing regions. Gerhard Schroeder met with locals, sat with Yamal reindeer-breeders in a chum (portable framework dwelling), and saw industrial facilities in action. This is in his nature - Schroeder always thoroughly studies the situation before making a final decision.
Russia and Germany objectively supplement each other in all respects, and their best choice is full-scale cooperation in foreign policy and trade. Needless to say, they do particularly well when they seek mutually acceptable solutions. We do not have to walk far for examples. The first years of this century have made it clear that international validity of both Russia and Germany grows manyfold when they work closely together. It is no surprise that France, which is always trying to prove its self-sufficiency, has instantly joined the Russian-German tandem. Under Chancellor Schroeder, Germany became an independent player in global affairs for the first time after 1945. Moreover, the Germans did this on their own free will rather than to spite someone or win someone's favor. The German-French-Russian Troika is the greatest foreign policy achievement of united Germany.
Schroeder's failure to get re-elected has not caused such dramatic consequences. Half of the current government leaders are his party colleagues, whose duty is to strictly monitor the implementation of the coalition agreement, which has sealed the main directions of his policy. Besides, the situation in Europe does not permit individual countries to "go wild".
Yet, it is a pity that Chancellor Schroeder has left his position, especially for us, Russians. It is in dealing with Russia that he displayed a rare talent to learn from reality, get rid of stereotypes, make logical conclusions, and follow them in practice.
His personal meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin did not take place at once. (Here Angela Merkel has left him behind - she met with Putin even before her election). Initially, he entrusted his Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer to work with Russia. But before long he realized the importance of cooperation with Russia for Germany, for the rest of Europe and the world, and took charge of bilateral relations.
Good personal relations between statesmen are important, but no matter how close they may be, they must never be to the detriment of national interests. In general, personal relations remain good only as long as they have certain limits. Good partners resolve emerging problems in a constructive manner, without spending extra time or emotions. Of course, if national interests require, a leader will have to put up with any opponent despite his personal sympathies and preferences. But it is much more pleasant to deal with a partner whom you like and who understands your concerns. Statesmen are as human as other people and have the same emotions. The only difference is that they have no right to let their emotions influence politics.
As for friendship between Schroeder and Putin, it has not come to an end when the Chancellor left his position. Family contacts continue (all the more so since the Schroeders have adopted a girl from Russia), but now without photoflashes. This friendship does not rule out Putin's good relations with Angela Merkel.
Schroeder is an experienced and clever politician and his advice is especially valuable when finding a way out of a predicament.
Having left his post, Schroeder resigned as a deputy, and does not have to obey faction discipline. He is absolutely free, and can decide on his own whether to address the public, and what to say. In the last seven years he was incredibly active, working as a lawyer, writing his memoirs, being a consultant of a Swiss publishing house, and a senior adviser in the Expert Council of the Rotshield Bank, supervising the construction of the gas pipeline badly needed by Germany. He looked a bit tired at times, but he has not aged. Today he is full of energy and it is beyond doubt that he will closely follow the policy of the new government, especially its line in world affairs.
Igor Maksimychev works at the Institute of Europe, Russian Academy of Sciences.