Gerhard Schroeder's 'birthday party' with Vladimir Putin - Telegraph

Christoph Strasser, Mrs Merkel’s Social Democrat human rights spokesman accused Mr Schroeder of cynicism: “Right now this demonstrative shoulder rubbing with Mr Putin is a provocation. For anyone fighting for human rights and against Putin’s aggressive politics, this seems cynical,” he insisted.

Andreas Scheuer, the general secretary of the Bavarian conservative party in Ms Merkel’s coalition said it was galling for Mr Schroder to be partying with Mr Putin while German army officer serving as diplomatic observers where being held hostage in Ukraine by pro-Russian activists.

“Our boys are on bread and water in prison and Schroeder is celebrating with Champagne and Caviar in a palace,” he said. “Even as a former Chancellor, he bears a great responsibility for the maintenance of peace and freedom,” he added.

Andreas Schockenhoff, the deputy chief whip of Ms Merkels' ruling Christian Democratic Party descibed Mr Schroeder's behaviour as "completely irresponsible". He added: "The pictures from St Petersburg play into Putin's propaganda machine. Mr Schroeder knows that and he must take responsibility for it."

A spokesman for Mrs Merkel’s coalition of Christian and Social Democrats stressed that Mr Schroeder’s activities in St Petersburg had “nothing to do” with the German government.

Mr Schroeder was Germany’s Social Democrat leader from 1998 until 2005. He is a personal friend of Vladimir Putin and once described the Russian President as a “flawless democrat”. He joined the board of the Russian energy giant Gazprom after losing Germany’s 2005 election and has defended Russia’s response to the crisis in Ukraine on several occasions.

Gazprom warned on Tuesday that if Kiev failed meet the outstanding $2.2 billion gas bill its owes the energy concern, gas supplies to Ukraine and the rest of Europe could be cut.