German politician Armin Laschet, on Jan. 16, won the leadership nomination for the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, which has been in power since 2005.
If CDU wins the federal election in September, Laschet will succeed Angela Merkel as chancellor of Germany.
Laschet is known for his friendly attitude towards authoritarian regimes. Laschet has publicly backed Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline and made comments in support of Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has congratulated Laschet on his victory.
“I hope for further strengthening and deepening of the Ukrainian-German partnership for the benefit of our peoples,” wrote Zelensky on Twitter.
Zelensky’s attention to German inner-party elections isn’t surprising. Germany is Europe’s largest economy and the key member of the Normandy peace talks. Ukrainian-German relations are vital for Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration and for maintaining the European Union’s sanctions against Russia.
The election of Laschet as the leader of the CDU ends a three-year-long transition period, which began after party leader Merkel stepped down from her post in 2018.
She led the party since 2002.
In 2018, Merkel said she won’t run in the next federal election, scheduled for September 2021, subsequently ending her 16-year long reign as German leader.
In 2018, the CDU held an election to choose Merkel’s successor. Merkel’s protégé, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, won the 2018 election. She soon was appointed Germany’s Minister of Defense.
However, her tenure was short-lived. In February 2020, Kramp-Karrenbauer stepped down as the leader of the CDU and decided not to run for re-election.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s decision to quit was sparked by the poor results during local elections. She also took a hit after her party voted together with the far-right Alternative for Germany party to appoint the Minister-President of Thuringia, one of Germany’s 16 states.
As a result, a new CDU leadership election was scheduled for Jan. 16 and was held online due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Laschet won the election, receiving 521 votes in the runoff out of 991. His main opponent was Friedrich Merz, who is among the few CDU party members proposing to introduce tougher sanctions on Russia.
According to the YouGov January poll, the union of the CDU and the Christian Social Union in Bavaria is supported by 36% of voters, far ahead of their main competitors. Laschet, the new leader of the CDU, is the frontrunner to become Germany’s next chancellor.
Laschet’s views on Russia
Laschet is the current Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. Laschet is best known for his comments in support of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, weeks after the Russian government made an unsuccessful attempt to murder opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
“It is good if we reach a common solution that is as cohesive as possible,” said Laschet on Sept. 5, dodging the question about the pipeline.
He soon warned journalists against hasty decisions about the gas pipeline.
It wasn’t the first poorly received comment by Germany’s possible future chancellor. In 2015, Laschet supported Russian intervention in Syria and accused the U.S. of sponsoring the Islamic State.
In 2019, Laschet once again supported Russia. “We have to re-enter into a stronger dialogue with Russia,” he said.
By then, over 13,000 Ukrainians have been killed as a result of the Russian invasion of Crimea and eastern Donbas.
In March 2014, when Russian President Vladimir Putin began his war against Ukraine, Laschet warned Germany against “anti-Putin populism.”
However, even Laschet’s backing might be insufficient to finish the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
On Jan. 15, Bloomberg reported that, as a result of U.S. sanctions, Zurich Insurance Group has decided to stop providing insurance services linked to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Earlier, Norwegian DNV GL, the world’s largest ship classification society, has issued a statement saying that it won’t certify the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for the same reason.