Schalke fans have sent an open letter to the club’s honorary council expressing concern over ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the Ukraine crisis.
The Russian government has a majority stake in the gas company Gazprom, which has sponsored Schalke since January 2007 and is contracted to do so until 2017. The company, which recently heightened tensions with the Ukraine when suggesting it may raise gas prices for the country, is said to pay a minimum of 15 million euros a year to the Bundesliga side.
Schalke chairman of the supervisory board Clemens Toennies, who is the owner of a meat company with an annual turnover of several billion euros, met up with Putin during the recent Winter Olympics in Sochi and declared that the Russian leader was a Royal Blues supporter.
He told Sport Bild at the end of last month: “I am in talks with Putin. He wishes to meet the Schalke team [in Russia].”
Schalke supporters have previously raised concerns over the Gazprom sponsorship and, in light of the political conflict between Russia and the Ukraine, fanzine “Schalker Markt” published an open letter urging the Bundesliga side’s honorary council not to show support for the Putin regime.
The letter read: “Mr Tonnies was seen in the press talking with Vladimir Putin, the President of the Russian Federation. In those reports, it was claimed that he wants to receive a visit from the players of FC Schalke 04.
“We request that you do not grant him this audience and ensure that the club FC Schalke 04 distances itself from Vladimir Putin in public.
“FC Schalke 04 is a club with democratic foundations and the freedom of expression is very precious. We should not function as the lapdogs of an autocrat and ennoble him with a visit. This is especially pertinent given the current political situation in the Ukraine, as Vladimir Putin has grossly infringed on the Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
The letter added that it had been addressed to the honorary council because it did not appear logical to write to the executive board or the supervisory board since they “apparently worked alongside Vladimir Putin to initiate the visit.”
Schalke chief Toennies, however, replied to the letter -- which has received attention in several media outlets -- by insisting there was no connection between the Ukraine crisis and his club’s relationship with the Russian regime.
He told local newspaper Ruhr Nachrichten: “The one thing has nothing to do with the other. One thing is a political problem, the other is an economic relationship, just like many others between Russian and German companies.”