West Germany's Cold War era Chancellor Schmidt dies aged 96

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. © Fabian Bimmer
Helmut Schmidt, chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982, has died at the age of 96 in his home in Hamburg.

The news of the political heavyweight’s death was confirmed by Schmidt’s doctor and Die Zeit newspaper, of which the ex-chancellor was a co-publisher. In September, Schmidt had surgery to alleviate clogging of blood vessels in his leg. He had been recovering at his Hamburg home. But on Monday, the ex-chancellor’s condition drastically deteriorated, with doctors warning relatives to prepare for the worst.

Schmidt was elected as the West German chancellor in 1974, after proving himself as the country’s finance, economy and defense minister. He headed the country during a dramatic period in the Cold War, which included the USSR invading Afghanistan in 1979.

A year later, West Germany supported the US in boycotting the Moscow Summer Olympics. However, Schmidt later confessed to having differences with American President Jimmy Carter over financial and defense issues.

Schmidt was also one of the driving forces behind the first economic summit of leading industrial powers at Rambouillet, France in 1975, a predecessor of the annual Group of Seven meetings.

The chancellor also faced the threat of homegrown terrorism from the Red Army Faction, which attacked and murdered several government officials in the late 1970s. In 1977, Schmidt ordered the successful storming of a hijacked Lufthansa plane in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, which saw 86 hostages, held by the leftist group, saved.

He was forced to resign in 1982 after his decision to allow the US to modernize its nuclear arsenal and to deploy Pershing 2 missiles in West Germany failed to find support among his fellow party members.

Schmidt refused to run for chancellor again due to health issues. He became of one of the most respected political commentators in the country.

He was never afraid of making controversial remarks, suggesting that Germany had accepted too many immigrants after WWII. He also accused former East Germany of "whininess" for constantly stressing its economic problems.

In 2014, Schmidt supported the accession of Crimea into Russia, calling Moscow's actions “completely understandable,” and slammed the West for reacting to the move with sanctions.