Matthias Warnig is, in many ways, an extraordinary person. The 65-year-old is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s oldest German friend and the most activeGerman in the Russian business environment. He is a former Stasi agent who became a banker in the 1990s. Since then, he has sat on the supervisory boards of many German-Russian banks and companies.
He is currently the CEO of Nord Stream 2, and happens to be in the rolein a recent YouTube video by Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), in which Russian opposition activists exposed a wide network of corruption surrounding the construction of a palace estate for the Russian president on the Black Sea coast.
In the video, Navalnymentions Warnig when talking about the exchange of letters between Putin’s ex-wife Lyudmila and a German friend of hers in the mid-1990s. One of the letters was sent from the Warnig fax machine. The Russian opposition leader, citing a DW article, said that Warnig provided financial assistance to Putin, a former KGB officer in Dresden, and his family. It is thought the two had met through their respective secret services in former East Germany, but the official route is that they made contact only later, at St. Petersburg. Petersburg, after they both changed professions.
Meeting Putin ‘no problem’
Warnig likes to avoid publicity. He prefers to operate in the background. Austrian newspaper Pers published an interview with him in 2018, in which he was asked how often he met Putin. Warnig replied that the Russian president does not have a cell phone, before adding: “But if I want something and need to see it, we arrange it.”
In Putin’s 20 years ruling Russia, Warnig has become the most influential German business manager in the Russian economy.
In Pers, Warnig said he has accepted this position for two reasons, which are both coincidence and interdependent. “I received most of the seats on the supervisory board in 2012,” he said. “Nord Stream 1 was completed in 2012, and my contract is running out. So I am open to accepting new assignments. At the same time there was conflict between the then president, Dmitri Medvedev, and the government. Medvedev’s decision that all ministers and senior civil servants have to give up his position on the supervisory board. And then they need people to fill these posts. “
He dismissed speculation that, as Putin’s confidant, he had control over the running of business. “No, absolutely not. I’m not a spokesman for the Kremlin. And I didn’t report to the Kremlin, or chat casually about what happened there.”
Matthias Warnig and former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder await Vladimir Putin at the North Stream reception on the occasion of Schröder’s 70th birthday in 2014
From Rosneft to Schalke 04
Matthias Warnig’s list of employers includes some of the largest companies in Russia. He has sat on the supervisory board of the state oil companies Transneft and Rosneft since 2011. On the Rosneft board he works with Gerhard Schröder: The former German chancellor, also a friend of Putin, has been its chairman since 2017. Schröder, however, is not mentioned in the film Navalny.
Warnig is also on the supervisory board of Russia’s VTB bank. And until 2015 he held the same position as the St. bank. Petersburg Rossiya [“Russia”] – which, according to Navalny’s video exposure and various media reports, are linked to President Putin’s inner circle.
From 2012 to 2018, Warnig chaired aluminum producer RUSAL’s supervisory board, but he had to relinquish this position after US sanctions were imposed on the company. However, the German executive quickly found another one – in his homeland. In 2019 he secured a seat on the supervisory board of German football club FC Schalke 04, whose main sponsor is the Russian energy company Gazprom. Several fans protested against his appointment.
Germany is determined to continue with Nord Stream 2, despite objections from the EU and US
Main project: Nord Stream 2
Warnig’s most important current project is the construction of Nord Stream 2, a gas pipeline from Russia to Germany that runs along the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Warnig is the managing director of the Swiss-based company Nord Stream 2, of which one of the most important owners is Gazprom. Previously, for ten years, he ran his predecessor, Nord Stream, which laid the first twin pipes across the Baltic Sea. Both projects should benefit the eastern German state, which means for Warnig they are close to home: He comes from the state of Brandenburg, which surrounds Berlin.
It is an irony of fate that Warnig’s most important project is threatened with extinction when the Russian opposition politiciansAlexei Navalny was taken to Germany for treatment. In August 2020, Navalny survived a near deadly poisoning on Russian soil with the nerve agent Novichok. Call for the Nord Stream 2 project, already under US sanctions, frozen or stopped altogethergetting louder. Given the fact that Germany and Russia plan to continue the controversial project despite this resistance, Warnig can be said to have successfully fulfilled his role as lobbyist for Russia in Germany.
Adapted from Russian into German by Markian Ostaptschuk