Austria, a neutral country, is under pressure to step up its offensive against Russia

Vienna – Austria has come under heavy criticism for granting visas to authorized Russian parliamentarians to attend the European Security and Cooperation Organization’s Vienna conference.

The issue highlights the delicate balancing act the European nation engaged in while trying to maintain its longstanding position of military neutrality during the war in Ukraine. attacked Ukraine, but stressed the need to maintain diplomatic ties with Russia.

Austria hosts several UN agencies and international organizations, including the OSCE, which was established as a forum for dialogue between East and West during the Cold War. Russia is one of 57 countries in North America, Europe and Asia who join the Vienna-based organization.

Moscow will send representatives to the OSCE parliament on February 23-24, including 15 Russian parliamentarians under European Union sanctions. Among them are Deputy Speaker of the Duma Pyotr Tolstoy and his fellow Member of Parliament Leonid Slutsky.

81 OSCE delegates from 20 countries, including France, Canada, the United Kingdom, Poland and Ukraine, wrote in a letter to the Austrian Chancellor, Minister of Foreign Affairs and other officials that the Austrian government should not allow the participation of sanctioned Russians. asked to ban

“It is important to remember that Russian parliamentarians are an integral part of the power system and complicit in the crimes Russia commits in Ukraine every day,” read the letter seen by the Associated Press. . “They have no place in institutions tasked with promoting honest dialogue and anti-war.”

The US representative to Congress was not among the signatories of the letter. US Ambassador to the OSCE Michael Carpenter told reporters on Friday that the Russian delegation “doesn’t deserve to be able to travel to the West.” However, Carpenter added, “It is up to the Austrian government to decide whether to issue a visa.”

Austrian authorities have not commented on the letter. On February 5, Foreign Minister Aleksandr Schallenberg said it was important to keep communication lines open with Moscow despite “brutal Russian attacks on Ukraine”, arguing that the sanctioned defended Austria’s decision to allow Russians to enter the country.

The Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs also claimed that, as host of the OSCE headquarters in Vienna, it had a legal obligation to issue visas to representatives of participating countries wishing to attend meetings there.

Austria, which joined the EU in 1995, has criticized Moscow and joined sanctions imposed by the EU on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. But unlike Finland and Sweden, which decided to abandon their neutral stance in May. Applying for NATO membershipAustria maintains the military neutrality it adopted in 1955.

The Austrian government has sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine, but not arms. Prime Minister Karl Nehammer He became the first and only EU leader to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin after the outbreak of war. Nehammer said he traveled to Moscow in April 2022 to try and convince the Russian leader to end the invasion, but to no avail.

Support for Austrian neutrality remains strong among the public and political elite.

“We believe that Austrian neutrality can still play a positive role today,” said Ralf Janik, an international law expert and researcher at the Sigmund Freud Private University in Vienna. increase. “The alternative is to join NATO, but all Austrian politicians are well aware that this is not supported by the majority of the Austrian people.”

Annexed by Nazi Germany for World War II, Austria declared neutrality after the war under pressure from its Western allies and the Soviet Union. Seeking a role as a mediator between East and West, it developed relations with Moscow during and after the Cold War.

In 1968, Austria became the first Western European country to import gas from the Soviet Union, making Russia increasingly dependent on energy in the decades that followed. Before Russia invaded Ukraine, her 80% of Austria’s natural gas was supplied by Russia. It has since reduced its share to just over 20% by switching to Norwegian gas, according to the Austrian power and gas regulator.

The Austrian banking system is also closely related to Russia. Raiffeisenbank International, his second largest bank in Austria, will take more than half of its profits from Russia in 2022. The bank has come under intense pressure to continue operations in Russia despite Moscow’s war against Ukraine and is now considering strategic options, including withdrawing from Russia.

Vienna is also known as a playground for spies, including Russia, due to its liberal spy laws.Despite initial reluctance, Austria Eight Russian diplomats expelled He is believed to have been engaged in espionage since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war.

There are no signs of Austria’s move away from neutrality, but some are calling for a reassessment of its policies in the wake of the Ukraine war.

Werner Fasslerbend, a former defense minister from Austria’s Conservative People’s Party, is one of the few prominent voices in favor of Austria abandoning its neutrality and joining NATO. With the end of the Cold War and Austria’s EU membership, Austria’s neutrality “lost its function”, said Fassler Bend, director of the Austrian Institute for European Security Policy.

As a NATO member, Austria “will be in a better position to shape European security policy and will have greater security,” he added.

“We don’t see this majority,” said Fasslabend.


Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine. https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

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https://www.local10.com/news/world/2023/02/12/neutral-austria-under-pressure-to-get-tougher-on-russia/ Austria, a neutral country, is under pressure to step up its offensive against Russia

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