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Former German Chancellor Defends Meeting With Putin

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (center) speaks with Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd left) at the entrance to the Yuspovsky Palace in St. Petersburg on April 28.
Germany's former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has defended a much-criticized meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying it helped win the release of observers held in eastern Ukraine.

Schroeder, who left office in 2005, has long had a close relationship with Putin, and is currently heading the Russian-led gas-pipeline consortium Nord Stream.

Schroeder drew widespread criticism for pictures of him embracing Putin at a 70th birthday party for the former German leader in Russia on April 28 -- when German military observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) were being held hostage by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

Schroeder told Germany's "Welt am Sonntag" newspaper on May 11 that he asked Putin to help free the hostages and asserted the talks "led to success."

The observers were released on May 3.
Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP