BERLIN — After his inauguration in the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin shook hands with just three men: first the Patriarch Cyril, then the former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and finally Dmitry Medvedev — whom he confirmed shortly afterwards in his position as Prime Minister.

The significance of such symbolic protocol gestures should not be underestimated. In autocratic regimes, the privilege of sitting or standing in the front row, close to the great wise leader, is always comforting evidence that you’re still in the boss’ good books, for now. The box seat is a life insurance policy, but one that can be canceled unilaterally at any time.

Things are no different in the Russian Federation's 18-year-old “managed democracy.” Gerhard Schröder has thus finally reached the front row of exemplary Putin propagandists. He faithfully fulfills the role Putin has assigned him. Cyril gives Putin the spiritual blessing, Medvedev is his political henchman, Schröder's task is to give post-Soviet neo-czarism a touch of international respectability.

This is depressing.

Schröder thus supports a Russian foreign policy the primary goal of which remains to undermine the international order where it still exists. And he tolerates continued internal repression. Just this past weekend, some 1,600 anti-Putin protesters were arrested across Russia.

The fact that a former German chancellor can be recruited for this role is depressing. The prerequisite for the position is that you leave your political judgment and moral compass at the Kremlin’s cloakroom.

By the way, just a bit behind Schröder was Steven Seagal, a down-and-out action movie actor who hasn’t had a box-office success in 20 years. The longer you look at the pitiful picture, the clearer it becomes that this is the league in which Gerhard Schröder now belongs: He is the Steven Seagal of international politics.

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