Germany's "most-admired" ex-chancellor Helmut Schmidt chain-smoked his way through a one-hour interview with Sandra Maischberger on German TV the other night (video can be accessed through the ARD Mediathek). Once again he showed himself to be a reliable "Putin-Versteher" and he had nothing good to say about the United States, making disparaging comments about President Obama. and even trashing his former role model ("Vorbild") John F. Kennedy. In the interview, Schmidt was emphatic that Putin is not wanting war ("kein Kriegstreiber") despite the fact that he has been sending troops and heavy weapons into eastern Ukraine. And he pointed out that the United States is every bit as "dangerous" as Russia. The entire crisis in the Ukraine is, in Schmidt's view, the fault of the European Union, which "stupidly" and "childishly" extended its borders into Eastern Europe:
"Der Versuch, die Europäische Union auszudehnen auf die Ukraine, gleichzeitig auf Georgien, am liebsten noch auf Armenien - alles das ist ein ziemlicher Blödsinn, das ist geopolitische Kinderei. Da fing der Unfug an, lange vor der heutigen Krise."
There was little sympathy or understanding for the people of Poland and the Baltic States and their aspirations to be part of the west - as if the EU imposed its will on these countries.
But let's face it: the man is 96 years old and has been poisoning himself with nicotine for most of his life. He seemed in a foul mood, complaining about the influx of immigrants into Germany ("we used to call them "guest workers" -Gastarbeiter") and even went into a rant about there being far too many human beings on the planet.
But come to think of it, Helmut Schmidt never really warmed to the United States and had a habit of savaging whomever was in the White House. Jimmy Carter, in his diaries, has bitter recollections of his German counterpart:
"Carter's diary portrays the Hamburg-born politician as a mercurial grouch, at one moment annoying his American colleagues with lectures on global economics, and then making himself scarce when the US needed his help. According to Carter's notes, Schmidt "acted like a paranoid child," and he was upset on several occasions by Schmidt's "unbelievable" behavior toward him. For example, in early 1978, Carter wrote: "Schmidt seems to go up and down in his psychological attitude. I guess women are not the only ones that have periods."
And even back then, as Carter recalls, Schmidt was eager to appease the Russians:
And when it came to the Soviet Union, the two countries couldn't reach a common position either. As Carter noted in his diary on January 5, 1979: "I was impressed and concerned by the attitude of Helmut toward appeasing the Soviets."