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UPDATE 1-Russia's Rosneft elects German ex-chancellor Schroeder as chairman

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ST PETERSBURG, Russia, Sept 29 (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is set to face a fresh backlash at home after he was elected as chairman of Russia's biggest oil producer Rosneft on Friday.

Schroeder, a Social Democrat who led Germany from 1998 to 2005, prompted widespread criticism in his homeland in August when he was nominated to Rosneft's board, given Western sanctions against Moscow over the Ukraine crisis and current Chancellor Angela Merkel's frosty relations with the Kremlin.

Shareholders in state-controlled Rosneft, which is subject to the sanctions, elected Schroeder to its board at a meeting on Friday, and shortly afterwards Schroeder told a news briefing he had been chosen by the board to be its chairman.

"Schroeder is a reputed and renowned politician, who has persistently advocated strategic cooperation between Germany, Europe and Russia," Rosneft CEO Igor Sechin told the company's shareholders before the vote.

"He is striving to improve Germany's ties with Russia."

Schroeder calls Russian President Vladimir Putin his friend and has criticized moves to impose sanctions on Russia.

"I would like to thank everyone for their confidence in me," Schroeder said after the shareholder vote. "I decided to use my experience ... for the good of the company."

Merkel, a vocal critic of Putin's policies, was among the German politicians to criticize Schroeder when he was nominated to Rosneft's board.

Schroeder hit back at that time, saying some of his critics wanted to push Germany into a "new Cold War."

"Imagine if I had been proposed not for a Rosneft board position but for Exxon in America," he said in an interview last month. "Nobody would ask my true motives."

"It is the largest oil company in the world, with important links to Germany," he said. "It is not the long arm of the Kremlin. They are the majority shareholder, but BP is a shareholder - not a small shop. Qatar is a shareholder."

Before the vote, Russia's state-controlled television channels extolled Schroeder as a longtime friend of Russia, saying his political weight should help Rosneft in its relations with foreign partners and help weather the Western sanctions.

Schroeder, whose father died in World War Two fighting the Red Army, is currently chairman of the shareholders committee at Nord Stream AG, a Gazprom-led consortium established to build a pipeline carrying Russian natural gas across the Baltic Sea.

Since last year, he has also been chairman of Nord Stream 2 AG which aims to build a new pipeline to double the capacity of the existing gas export pipeline across the Baltic. (Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Vladimir Soldatkin and Mark Potter)