Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has continued his unlikely mission to mediate peace between Russia and Ukraine in recent days, meeting with senior officials on both sides of the conflict, from Moscow to Istanbul.
The former German leader, widely criticized across the West for his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, agreed last week, at the request of Ukrainian intermediaries, to act as an unofficial mediator between the two parties in stalled peace talks.
In the first step of his venture, Schröder traveled to Moscow on Thursday to meet the Russian leader. His discussion with Putin that day was “very intense” and frank, according to an insider. Schröder made clear what he thought of Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the person said, without giving further details.
After meeting Putin on Thursday in the Kremlin, Schröder spoke Friday morning with Vladimir Medinsky, the Russian leader’s chief negotiator in ceasefire talks with Ukraine, according to the person close to the former chancellor.
The two men had a ‘long discussion’ focusing on the same issues – including the status of the disputed territories and Kiev’s aspirations to NATO – that have been on the table in the bilateral talks between Russia and Ukraine. in Belarus and Turkey, according to the source.
Over the weekend, Schröder then traveled to Istanbul, where on Sunday he met with Rustem Umerov, a Ukrainian MP and member of his country’s delegation to the peace talks with the Russians. The former German politician gave Umerov, who has been in contact with Schröder since last week, a summary of his talks in Moscow.
It was not immediately clear whether Schröder would make another trip to Moscow.
The German government did not authorize Schröder’s role as an intermediary and expressed surprise after learning about it following a POLITICO report on his mission last week. After initial criticism from his own centre-left Social Democratic Party, which leads Germany’s governing coalition, SPD chairman Lars Klingbeil expressed hope that the former chancellor would succeed.
While Schröder’s shuttle diplomacy yielded no immediate results, such as a hoped-for ceasefire, the former German leader believes his relationship with Putin and the lack of an official mandate from any government – including his own – allow him to play a unique role as a former statesman outside of normal diplomatic channels.
In recent days, several world leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, have all spoken to Putin, but Schröder is the only Western figure to have met with both the Russian leader. and Ukrainian officials themselves.
Ukrainian officials initially contacted Schröder through Ringier, a Swiss media group. Schröder worked as an international consultant for Ringier for more than 15 years, but the publisher ended the relationship amid recent controversy surrounding Schröder’s refusal to give up his board seats at Russian energy companies after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ringier chief executive Marc Walder has agreed to link the Ukrainian side to Schröder and facilitate their first meeting in Istanbul last week. But the company is no longer directly involved, he added.