A fraternal embrace between Russian President Vladimir Putin and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder drew a wave of criticism in Berlin on Tuesday, coming as four Germans taken hostage by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine have added to already increased tensions between the two countries.
German media published pictures of Schröder and Putin smiling together and hugging late Monday in St. Petersburg, Russia, while celebrating the birthday of the former chancellor who served from 1998 to 2005 and turned 70 earlier this month.
The German government quickly distanced itself from Schröder, insisting the ex-chancellor acted as a private citizen.
A senior German official stressed Schröder didn’t represent the government of his successor, Angela Merkel. Merkel and Putin talk regularly one-to-one, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of rules preventing the official from being identified.
Schröder is said to have a close relationship with Putin, once calling him a “flawless democrat.”
See also Der Spiegel’s coverage. (in English)