Angela Merkel replaced by ‘Putin sympathiser’ as Germany poised to move closer to Russia

Germany: Armin Laschet wins vote to lead the CDU party

Mrs Merkel was this weekend replaced as leader of Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) by centrist Mr Laschet. Premier of North Rhine-Westphalia state, Mr Laschet defeated two rivals during the party’s virtual conference to claim victory. He is now in good stead to become the country’s next Chancellor when Mrs Merkel steps down in September after a lengthy 16 years in office.

Described as the “continuity candidate”, Mr Laschet has for the most part supported Mrs Merkel in her political endeavours

This included Germany’s welcoming an influx of immigrants during the 2015 migrant crisis, which the new leader backed.

However, he reportedly “infuriated” Mrs Merkel last spring when he suggested coronavirus restrictions should have been enforced earlier than agreed.

The CDU will now discuss whether or not to put him up as their Chancellor candidate in this year’s general election.

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If so, both Germany and the EU might undergo momentous change when reflecting on Mr Laschet’s previous political rhetoric.

Archive reports show that in 2019 he spoke out in favour of closer cooperation with Russia.

Looking back at the policy of détente in the Seventies during the Cold War – the period which marked an easing of tensions between Western powers and the Soviet Union – Mr Laschet said: “Back then, in a tense situation with a totalitarian communist system, threads of conversation were established.

“Then it must be possible for us today too.

“We need Russia for many questions in the world.”

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He continued: “There are many conflicts where we have to move forward without giving up our position under international law, for example on Crimea.

“You can speak plainly and still cooperate in other fields and keep talking.”

Mr Laschet commended Russia’s President Vladimir Putin for promising to ratify the Paris climate protection agreement.

Late last year, Mr Putin signed a decree ordering the Russian government to work towards the 2015 climate deal.

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However, green activists said they were “disappointed” as under his conditions Russia failed to seriously curb its emissions – the country being the world’s fourth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Mr Laschet’s appeasement towards Russia has led many within Germany to describe him as a Russlandversteher: A derogatory term for people who take a soft and sympathetic stance on Mr Putin’s Russia, according to Politico.

He is also considered to have a soft line on China, as protecting German export industries has been one of his biggest concerns.

This is a criticism the EU itself has received in recent weeks, after the bloc signed an investment trade deal with Beijing.

Sean King, senior vice-president of Park Strategies in New York, last year told Express.co.uk that deals like this should be avoided at all costs.

He said: “We (liberal democracies) need to start trading more with friends and allies that share our values and don’t intimidate their neighbours.”

Mr Laschet has also taken a more lenient line on the US compared to some of his contemporaries.

After a meeting with then-US ambassador Richard Grenell in 2019, Mr Laschet said: “The US is our most significant partner outside the European Union.

“It is the world’s leading technology nation, and it is of critical importance to security in Europe.”

Elsewhere, he has also been accused of pushing conspiracy theories after being called-out for a 2014 tweet directed at the former US Secretary of State John Kerry.

On the topic of Syria, he wrote: “You supported ISIS and Al Nusra against President Assad in Syria. And they are financed by Qatar and Saudi-Arabia.”

Many said the theory pushed an element of legitimacy onto the country’s President Bashar al-Assad, who has been described as a dictator.

Meanwhile, any major change under Mr Laschet is unlikely to materialise following the contents of his victory speech on Sunday.

He said that any sudden diversion from the CDU’s current path would “send exactly the wrong signal”.

In the speech, Mr Laschet said: “I want to do everything so that we can stick together through this year… and then make sure that the next chancellor in the federal elections will be from the [CDU/CSU] union.”

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