When Angela Merkel became German chancellor in November 2005, her Social Democratic predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, had just landed a big job at Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned energy giant. At the time, it seemed that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was rewarding his close friend for pushing through a big energy contract between Gazprom and what was then the Kremlin’s most important ally in the EU.
Behind the backs of Germany’s Eastern and Central European neighbors, Schröder, supported by leading Austrian, Dutch, French, and German energy companies, made a deal with Gazprom. They would build the Nord Stream pipeline under the Baltic Sea to bring Russian gas directly to Western Europe for the first time. For Gazprom, the deal meant no more hassles or expenses with transit countries, particularly Ukraine and Poland. For Germany, it meant increased energy dependence on Russia—whatever the political and strategic fallout.