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Gerhard Schroder’s Next Big Job

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After leaving office in November, former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder wasted no time sprucing up his résumé. He took a job as consultant with Swiss publishers Ringier in November; he even attended a rural language school in Wales to brush up on his English. Russian, though, might have been a better choice. Only weeks after brokering, as Chancellor, a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin for a gas pipeline linking the two countries, Schröder earlier this month stepped into the role of project chairman. Set to start piping gas into Europe in 2010, the $5-billion North European Gas Pipeline is controlled by Gazprom, Russia’s state-run natural gas supplier.

Schröder appears not to have broken any rules — there are none governing the conduct of former Chancellors — but his close relationship with Putin triggered charges of cronyism from German politicians, as well as claims that he’s sold his country out. “Gazprom is Putin and Putin is Gazprom. By taking this job, Schröder has made himself a salesman for Putin’s politics,” alleges Reinhard Bütikofer, a leader of Germany’s Greens. Now there are calls for a code of conduct governing former politicians’ access to the private sector. Schröder brushed off the criticism as “a lot of nonsense,” reportedly suggesting he might sue one German tabloid for allegedly overstating his salary.

Still, Russia seems to be courting pols in the West. Reports claim Putin earlier this month offered the chairmanship of Russian state oil firm Rosneft to former U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a close friend of President Bush. Rosneft is readying for an IPO next year, after picking up the production arm of its dismembered rival Yukos in a state-sponsored auction a year ago. Sources close to Evans won’t confirm or deny the offer, saying only that Evans supports closer commercial ties between the U.S. and Russia.

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