Putin's People in Austria and Beyond

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: February 25, 2022; 06:08 ♦ Updated: February 25; 11:23 ♦ (Vindobona)

Following Putin's invasion of eastern Ukraine with the aim of regaining former Soviet territory, two former European prime ministers from Italy and Finland have already resigned from the supervisory boards of two Russian companies. However, some Austrian and German politicians see no reason to resign their mandates. In the following some explanations why.

With Putin having launched what could be the biggest war in Europe since WW II, the pressure on Western politicians who serve on the supervisory boards of Russian corporations has definitely grown. / Picture: © Vindobona.org

With Putin having launched what could be the biggest war in Europe in 70 years, the Europe-wide resignations underscore the pressure on Western politicians who sit on the supervisory boards of Russian corporations.

As the Financial Times reports, already in response to Russian military action, both Matteo Renzi and Esko Aho left Russian corporate boards.

Former Italian prime minister and senator for the centrist Italia Viva party, Matteo Renzi, informed the board of directors of Delimobil,, Russia's largest car-sharing service, of his resignation, effective immediately. According to the FT, Renzi declined to comment. 

Former Finnish Prime Minister, Esko Aho, left the board of Sberbank, Russia's largest bank before VTB Bank. There he served as an independent director and member of the supervisory board. "I have initiated measures today to withdraw from the board," he told local media, according to the FT.

As reported by Vindobona, Austrian former politicians and officials with ties to Russian corporate boards include Wolfgang Schüssel and Karin Kneissl.

Former Austrian Federal Chancellor (2000 - 2007) and former chairman of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) Wolfgang Schüssel joined the board of Russian oil company Lukoil in 2019.

Lukoil is a Russian oil company listed on the RTS Index and ranked 98th in the Forbes Global 2000 of the world's largest companies with a stock market value of over $60 billion.

According to ORF (Austrian Broadcasting) and "Der Standard", Schüssel sees no need to resign, as his spokeswoman said, because Lukoil is listed on the London Stock Exchange and is not a state-owned company. Also, at present, there would be no sanctions regime against Lukoil, she said.

Austria's ex-Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, since her wedding known for her fine contact with Vladimir Putin, and who was Austrian Foreign Minister between 2017 and 2019, has been a board member of Russian state oil company Rosneft since March 2021. Rosneft, which is on the EU and U.S. Ukraine sanctions list, is owned by one of Putin's closest friends, Igor Sechin, and in 2007 it unjustly took over the assets of Yukos owner Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Former Austrian Federal Chancellor (May 2016 to December 2017) and former SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria) chairman Christian Kern was on the board of Russian Railways RZD from 2019 to 2022. However, on February 24, 2022, on the day of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Kern resigned from this post.

Russian Railways is a Russian fully state-owned vertically integrated railway company, both managing infrastructure and operating freight and passenger train services.

According to the daily "Der Standard" Kern said about his resignation from the Board of Directors: "Today in the morning hours I informed the bodies of the Joint Stock Company Russian Railways RZD that I am resigning from the Board of Directors with immediate effect. As of today, RZD has indeed become part of a war logistics. I deeply regret this."

Former Finance Minister Jörg Schelling (Austrian People's Party, ÖVP) was an advisor to the Nord Stream 2 project for a few months in 2018, but then stopped engaging in Russia.

The company Nord Stream in the Swiss tax haven of Zug, which built the Baltic Sea pipeline between Russia and Germany (whose approval procedure was stopped by Olaf Scholz a few days ago), is owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom. Gazprom is a Russian multinational energy company, majority state-owned and headquartered in Saint Petersburg, Putin's political home. With sales of more than €140 billion, Gazprom is the world's largest publicly traded natural gas company and Russia's largest company by revenue.

Another former politician with ties to Russian corporations, is former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, who serves on the board of Russian state oil company Rosneft and has been nominated to the board of Russian gas supplier Gazprom.

In a recent article, "Gerhard Schröder Casts a Dark Shadow over Berlin's Foreign Policy," the magazine "Der Spiegel" noted that former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is a major reason why in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Germany is cutting a rather ambivalent figure.

"And if you look at things from within the logic of Putin’s friendships, it almost makes sense that Schröder keeps accumulating leadership jobs in the Russian fossil fuel industry. In Putin’s system, after all, declining such an offer is akin not just to cowardice, but also to personal rejection of the Russian leader himself. Schröder is important to Putin, a man from whom it is difficult to separate oneself once you have entered his orbit. In Germany, Schröder is seen as a macho, someone who takes orders from nobody. But in Russia, the criteria for masculinity and loyalty are in a completely different league. To understand just how much influence Schröder still has, how stabile his networks remain and how problematic his lobbying activities are, it is helpful to take a trip to the Baltic Sea coast in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. His friends, his interests – it’s all there in plain sight. It is here where two thick metal pipes can be seen protruding from the ground just outside the port of Lubmin. They are built to withstand 177 bars of pressure and can only be controlled in an emergency with hydraulic valves weighing several tons. This is where the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline connecting Russia to Germany terminates. Schröder’s project. It is here where Russian natural gas is to be piped into the German supply grid and distributed throughout Europe."

Meanwhile, the German government has halted the approval process and put the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline on hold.



Financial Times

Der Standard

Der Standard

Der Spiegel