IT'S THE SORT of behavior we have -- sadly -- come to expect from some in Congress. But when Gerhard Schroeder, the former German chancellor, announced last week that he was going to work for Gazprom, the Russian energy behemoth, he catapulted himself into a different league. It's one thing for a legislator to resign his job, leave his committee chairmanship and go to work for a company over whose industry he once had jurisdiction. It's quite another thing when the chancellor of Germany -- one of the world's largest economies -- leaves his job and goes to work for a company controlled by the Russian government that is helping to build a Baltic Sea gas pipeline that he championed while in office. To make the decision even more unpalatable, it turns out that the chief executive of the pipeline consortium is none other than a former East German secret police officer who was friendly with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, back when Mr. Putin was a KGB agent in East Germany. If nothing else, Mr. Schroeder deserves opprobrium for his bad taste.
But the announcement should also raise questions in German voters' minds about the real reasons Mr. Schroeder was so keen to see this pipeline project launched. The pipeline has cost Germany diplomatically by infuriating its Central European and Baltic neighbors. They point out that the Russian government chose to use the sea route rather than run a new pipeline alongside one that already exists on land, despite the far greater expense. The only possible reason for doing so was political: The Baltic Sea pipeline could allow Russia, a country that has made political use of its energy resources, to cut off gas to Central Europe and the Baltic states while still delivering gas to Germany. Many have wondered why Germany chose to go along with this project. Could it have been because the former chancellor realized that he was, in effect, creating his own future place of employment?
On a broader level, Mr. Schroeder's decision to swap his job with the German government for a job funded by the Russian government should raise questions for German voters about their country's relationship with Russia. During his seven years as chancellor, Mr. Schroeder went out of his way to ignore the gradual suppression of political rights in Russia and to play down the significance of Russia's horrific war in Chechnya. Throughout his term in office, Mr. Schroeder thwarted attempts to put unified Western pressure on Russia to change its behavior. We can only hope that Germany's new chancellor, Angela Merkel, uses this extraordinary announcement as a reason to launch a new German policy toward Russia, one based on something other than Mr. Schroeder's private interests.