Saskia Esken, one of two co-leaders of Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats, said in an interview with Deutschlandfunk radio that “Gerhard Schroeder has been acting for many years now only as a businessman, and we should stop seeing him as an elder statesman, as a former chancellor. He earns his money with work for Russian state companies.”

Asked whether Schroeder should leave the party, Esken replied: “He should.”

Schroeder is chairman of the supervisory board of Russian state energy company Rosneft and also has been involved with the Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline projects. He has ignored calls from the party, and from Scholz, to give up those posts. The head of his office recently quit, and Schroeder, 78 — who led the country from 1998 to 2005 — has few defenders left in Germany.

At a news conference later Monday, Esken made clear that comments by Schroeder to The New York Times on atrocities in the Ukrainian town of Bucha made Schroeder’s position even less tenable. Schroeder was quoted as saying that the matter “has to be investigated” but he didn’t think the orders would have come from Russian President Vladimir Putin, a longtime friend.

“His defense of Vladimir Putin against the accusation of war crimes is absurd,” Esken said. Giving up his Russian energy posts “would have been necessary to salvage his reputation as a former and once really successful chancellor, but unfortunately he didn’t follow this advice,” she added.

The Social Democrats’ local branch in Schroeder’s home city of Hannover said it has received 14 requests so far for expulsion proceedings against the ex-chancellor, German news agency dpa reported.

An arbitration committee of the Hannover branch will have to decide on those requests, but it isn’t clear when it might make a decision. Esken noted that such proceedings face “very high hurdles” and “need a lot of time.”

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Follow all AP stories on Russia’s war on Ukraine at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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