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German ex-Chancellor Schroeder defends party with Putin; says sanctions, isolation pointless

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BERLIN - Germany's ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is defending a much-criticized embrace with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a recent birthday party and insisting that threatening sanctions is the wrong response to the Ukraine crisis.

Schroeder, who left office in 2005, has long had a close relationship with Putin. He is now chairman of Russian-led gas pipeline consortium Nord Stream.

Schroeder drew widespread criticism over pictures of him hugging Putin in Russia April 28, at a time when German military observers were being held by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine.

Schroeder told Sunday's Welt am Sonntag newspaper Putin "isn't persona non grata." He said he asked Putin to help free the hostages and asserted the talks "led to success."

He was quoted as saying: "it is certain that sanctions and isolation will achieve nothing."

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