“Regular Russia fans”: Criticism of the CSU’s relationship with Putin

A reception in the Kremlin by the Russian president – Horst Seehofer beamed: It was a “special award” to Bavaria and showed how friendly the relationship was. “We are proud of that.” At the time, in April 2011, the president was Dmitry Medvedev – today the deputy head of the National Security Council.

The then head of government, Vladimir Putin, also took the time to meet the Bavarian prime minister and the business leaders who followed him. “It was a conversation in a very relaxed atmosphere,” Seehofer reported. Key topic: a closer “energy partnership”. With a view to the German nuclear settlement, the CSU leader asked for more Russian gas.

It was the first of several visits by Seehofer to Putin – the CSU politician built on his predecessor Edmund Stoiber’s good Moscow contacts. The longtime CSU leader Franz Josef Strauss laid the foundation stone as prime minister with a legendary flight to the Soviet Union in 1987. In 2016 and 2017, Seehofer and Stoiber traveled to Russia together, and Stoiber even received a media-friendly hug from Putin. Two years ago, the current Prime Minister Markus Söder was also in the Kremlin.

In the debate on the war in Ukraine, the relationship between the top politicians in the CSU and Russia is now more in focus – not least due to Bavaria’s great dependence on Russian gas. In 2021, no other federal state went near as much money for oil and gas to Moscow as Bavaria: According to the Federal Statistical Office, the Free State imported oil and natural gas from Russia worth 5.7 billion euros – about 29 percent of the nationwide total.

Greens: “Deadly dependence on Russia”

Has the state government made Bavaria dependent on Russian energy? In any case, the Greens in the state parliament have long been critical of the CSU’s Russia policy. “The previous federal governments and the state government of Bavaria have brought us into maximum fossil dependence,” Green MP Florian Siekmann told BR. CSU has been blocking wind power for years with the 10H rule and is only expanding half-hearted solar energy. According to Siekmann, gas supplies were to come from abroad – leading to a “fatal dependence” on Russia.

Bavaria’s parliamentary group leader for the FDP, Martin Hagen, also complains: “The state government’s panderium to Russia has been wrong for a long time – and it has led Bavaria into a dangerous energy policy dependence. It is now taking its toll.”

“Seriously problematic secondary foreign policy”

Siekmann also criticizes the relationship between leading Christian Socialists and Putin beyond energy policy. CSU politicians’ visits to Moscow were often about “seriously problematic secondary foreign policy”. This was governed only by the individual economic interests of the Free State.

As an example, the Green MP sees Seehofer’s doubts about the sanctions imposed after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014: These statements “have always called into question the credibility of the federal government.” That was extremely important for the Kremlin. “Horst Seehofer and Edmund Stoiber were real Russia fans,” says Siekmann.

Seehofer received particularly harsh criticism from his trip to Russia in 2016. By that time, Crimea had already been annexed for two years, the war raged in eastern Ukraine, and the Minsk agreement had by no means been implemented – but Seehofer nevertheless called for sanctions against Russia were eased. At the time, the CDU accused him of stabbing the federal government in the back with his “secondary foreign policy.” The SPD’s parliamentary group leader, Markus Rinderspacher, accused the prime minister of turning to the Russian ruler, who is trampling on international law.

Bombs on Aleppo: “Yes, you know that!”

While the Bavarian delegation was talking to Putin, Russian bombs fell in Syria. “When you sat down with Mr Putin, the most devastating attacks were on Aleppo,” an ARD reporter told Seehofer afterwards. “Yes, you know that!” replied the Prime Minister. “I congratulate you on this deep insight!”

During the next visit to Moscow in 2017, Seehofer tried to be more careful. Prior to the trip, however, the Russian-language CSU advertising on Facebook, which the Christian Socialists used to woo followers of the Russian propaganda broadcaster RT, attracted attention. Next to a Seehofer picture was the text in Russian: “We do not want a republic where left-wing forces and multiculturalism are dominant.”

Also SPD representatives in the criticism

Of course, it is not just CSU politicians who have to come to terms with accusations of harassing Putin. Russian author Vladimir Sorokin recently complained in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” that many top European politicians had “flown to the Kremlin to have a portion of lies administered to them”, always nodded them, “took something about ‘constructive dialogue’ at press conference say and fly on the road again “.

Possibly even more than CSU politicians, it was primarily the leading Social Democrats in Germany who for a long time campaigned for a Putin-friendly line – above all former Chancellor and gas lobbyist Gerhard Schröder, but also Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig and others .

Söder will visit Moscow in 2020

Markus Söder assured several times before his trip to Moscow in early 2020 that he was not pursuing any secondary foreign policy – the visit was closely coordinated with the Chancellor. Following the meeting with Putin, the CSU leader reported that in addition to the Bavarian-Russian cooperation, the sanctions against Russia in the Ukraine conflict were also discussed. Söder said he defended the sanctions at the meeting and also spoke about the alleged Russian contract killing of a Georgian in Berlin’s Tiergarten.

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