German govt distances itself from Schroeder after his Putin meeting

BERLIN, April 29 Tue Apr 29, 2014 4:15am EDT

BERLIN, April 29 (Reuters) - The German government distanced itself from ex Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder on Tuesday after pictures depicting him in an embrace with Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Monday evening were published in German media.

Schroeder's office had no immediate comment on the pictures, which according to the media reports were taken outside the Yusupov Palace where Schroeder was attending a celebration in honour of his 70th birthday on April 7.

"He does not represent the German government," said a senior German government official when asked about the pictures of Schroeder's meeting with Putin. "It should be clear to everyone that Mr. Schroeder left active politics some time ago."

Schroeder, chancellor from 1998-2005, has come under fire before for his close relations with Putin. Schroeder became the board chairman of a German-Russian pipeline joint venture with gas monopoly Gazprom Nord Stream after leaving office.

Publication of the picture of Schroeder in a warm embrace with Putin comes at a time of high tension between the West and Russia and underscore Germany's ambivalence about new sanctions on Russia. Germany relies on Russia for natural gas supplies. (Reporting by Noah Barkin; Writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Stephen Brown)