CSU politicians close to Kremlin: why Bavaria sought proximity to Russia

Status: 05/03/2022 17:35

Representatives of German business and politics were in and out of the Kremlin for a long time. Like leaders, prominent CSU politicians such as former party leader Erwin Huber are now critical of the proximity to Russian politics.

By Ulrich Hagmann and Fabian Mader, BR

Erwin Huber was head of the Bavarian Chancellery under Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, later Bavaria’s Minister of Economy and Finance and CSU chairman. Today, he is critical of his own party’s Russia policy. It was mainly about “economic things,” Huber told the political magazine ARD report Munich. The market had to be rebuilt after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This collaboration also resulted in personal acquaintances – Huber will not talk about friendship.

Close relationship with Putin

The relationship between former Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber and Vladimir Putin was considered particularly close. Since 2007, they have reportedly been on first names. At the security conference in Munich the same year, the Russian president gave his infamous angry speech announcing Russia’s departure from the West. The night before the speech, Stoiber had invited Putin “for a beer”. Stoiber said in an interview at the time that people withdrew to the library and talked about Bavarian specialties.

The connection lasted – even when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Stoiber campaigned against sanctions, traveled to the Kremlin in 2016, where the two hugged hot in front of the camera. Important in this context: allegations against this policy were not made at that time.

At the request of report Munich do not express in person – due to time constraints. But he said he obviously would not give a friendly welcome to today’s war criminal Putin.

Edmund Stoiber’s visit to Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016 did not provoke much criticism at the time.

Image: image alliance / dpa

German business relied on Russia as a partner

Michael Harms, Executive Director of the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, refers to the historical connection between Russia, Germany and Bavaria in particular. The first gas pipeline from the Soviet Union ended in Bavaria in the 1970s. At the time, it was the CSU’s strategy to industrialize Bavaria and have reliable energy from the east.

But Russia was not only an interesting partner for companies from Bavaria. The mentality fit well together. “Germany and Russia simply complemented each other really well. Russia has the raw materials. We have the technologies, it fit really well, and I think that was the main driving force behind this investment,” says Harms.

Stayed a long time for Nord Stream 2

The Eastern Committee has therefore always fought for Nord Stream 2 – the second gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which leads directly from Russia to Germany. At the New Year’s reception in January 2022, a few weeks before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Manuela Schwesig thanked the Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations for always having a “clear position” on this matter. At the time, the SPD Prime Minister from Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania was still convinced that Nord Stream 2 could be put into operation – just like large parts of the German economy.

From today’s perspective, Harms here admits mistakes. “I do not deny our responsibility at all, we have clearly made mistakes, I openly admit that,” he says. “I think we underestimated this geopolitical component.”

Proximity to Russia at the expense of other economic relations

There were certainly alternatives to at least reduce dependence on Russian natural gas. Gerhard Roiss, former CEO of the Austrian OMV, which operates many petrol stations in Germany, also wanted to open up new sources for Germany – independent of Russia. The Nabucco pipeline was to bring gas from, among other places, Azerbaijan directly to Central Europe. Although there were several reasons for the failure – from the leader’s point of view, it was crucial that Germany “later became very involved in Nord Stream 2 and Nabucco was dead”. That was also what Germany wanted politically. He calls for the project to be tackled again.

CSU has also fought for Nord Stream 2. From Huber’s point of view, the biggest mistake was to slow down the expansion of the power lines that should have brought wind power from north to south. He has always been critical of natural gas as an energy source.

According to Huber, the then Bavarian Prime Minister, Horst Seehofer, was a particular opponent of the power lines. From today’s perspective, it was “a mistake” that he questioned sanctions against Russia.

You can see more about this and other topics in the report Munich today at 21.45 in the first.

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