Austria is close to Moscow, maybe Nehammer wanted to build a bridge to Putin, suggests political scientist

During the seventh week of the Ukrainian War, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Vladimir Putin. The trip to Moscow was to be part of an effort to establish a dialogue between Russia and the West. Nehammer apparently wanted to tell the Russian leader that he had lost, but the negotiations probably did not bring anything, suggests political scientist Vít Hloušek in an interview with Voxpot.

“We are militarily neutral, but we have a clear position on the Russian war against Ukraine. It has to stop! Humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire and investigations into war crimes are necessary. » he said Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer before leaving for the east. About your trip informed President Zelenský and the head of the European Union Ursul von der Leyen and Charles Michel.

Vit Hloušek (* 1977)

That works at the International Institute of Political Science at Masaryk University in Brno. In 2015, he was appointed professor of political science. It focuses, for example, on contemporary European political history and Euroscepticism.

Austrian Chancellor Moscow visited as the first European leader since the start of Russian aggression. Vladimir Poutine warnedWestern sanctions could be even harsher. He also spoke about Russian war crimes in a 75-minute meeting and proposed to the president that Volodymyr Zelensky was ready to negotiate with him in person. But the Kremlin leader did not respond and ignored the offer.

Austria has been around since the 1950s neutral countries, similar to Switzerland. With Russia connect a number of economic and energy links. The trading partner in the East supplies it with gas covering up to 80% of local consumption, and close interconnections also exist in the banking sector. Vienna a long time tried to be an ally of Moscow on the old continent and to act as an intermediary between Russian and European interests. During the last years look at EU-Russia-Austria friendship with concern. This is why Nehammer’s visit to the Kremlin could have been the West approved – as if to indicate that even Vienna’s traditional neutrality has its limits.

What can we learn from Monday’s Putin and Nehammer meeting? And have relations between Russia and Austria changed since the beginning of the war? We asked political scientist Vít Hloušek about it.

I don’t know why Nehammer does this. I do not understand that. Why now? It also makes no sense in terms of Austrian domestic politics.

Immediately after the talks with Putin, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said they weren’t very friendly and had a very open and tough dialogue.

Frankly, if he only went there to explain to Putin that he had lost morally, that was to be expected. The negotiations obviously did not bring any progress. It is clear from the Austrian Chancellor’s comments after the meeting that Putin does not currently have negotiations as a priority.

What could have been the main objectives of Nehammer? Why did he go to the Kremlin?

He probably thought he could talk about something more sensible with Putin. I believe he wanted to explain to him how the European Union and the West see him, what the context is. However, if it can lead to anything, that’s a big question. Austria has better relations with Russia than the rest of the EU combined. Unlike Sweden and Finland, its neutrality is respected by Russia. The Austrians have somewhat more privileged contacts with Moscow. So the Chancellor may have thought he could attempt to bridge Putin better than Emmanuel Macron. But if he really came there to tell him how badly he’s lost morally and that he should be more accommodating to Ukraine’s ceasefire efforts and try a more diplomatic route, that’s it. is naive.

What meaning could negotiations with the Kremlin have for Austria itself?

I don’t know why Nehammer does this. I do not understand that. Why now? It also makes no sense in terms of Austrian domestic politics. Even the Austrian Greens, which are a coalition partner of the People’s Party (it is you Nehammer who directs; Editorial note). Not that they banned it, but it wasn’t enthusiastically received. It remains to be seen whether there will be a new channel through which the European Union will try to talk to Russia.

Read also : A peace deal in Ukraine is unlikely to be possible without an escape strategy for Putin

What is the relationship between Austria and Russia – apart from economic interconnection and energy – in the longer term? Has it changed in any way since 2014, that is, since the start of the Russian invasion of Crimea?

Again, not much has changed, although even Austria was not entirely happy with the steps that led to the occupation of Crimea and other parts of eastern Ukraine. On the other hand, cynically, it is not a priority for Austria. Vienna has no special relations with Ukraine, it is not a country that would be directly affected by the events. Not like Poles, Slovaks or ourselves – although we don’t have a direct border with Ukraine. For Austria, Russia has long been an important partner economically rather than politically, even after 2014. I certainly do not mean that Austrians are Putin’s puppet or Trojan horse in the EU. Other countries, Cyprus or Greece, play this role. Vienna has never had a major problem with the Russians, Moscow has economic interests that suit the Austrians. The country used to enjoy its neutral position in this regard, but now it is more complicated for it, because Russian aggression is quite obvious and cannot be excused.

How did Western countries react when Nehammer announced he would fly to Moscow?

I did not notice any violent reaction. Representatives of the European Union and Zelenský have been consulted, so probably no one will condemn him. At the same time, I haven’t even seen a reaction that would praise it. I don’t think anyone would expect anything more fundamental from this.

Neutral Austria

Austrian neutral state status lasts since 1955. The country declared itself neutral to withdraw allied troopsIt’s her busy since 1945. The Neutrality Law stipulates that Vienna will never join a military alliance or allow the establishment of a foreign military base on its territory. After declaring neutrality, Austria pursued a “policy of active neutrality” – offering its territory as a meeting place between East and West.

Do you think Austria will continue to try to maintain its neutrality?

Certainly. They made it a monument of their own internal policy. This neutrality is in a way part of the Austrian identity, it is important for the country, even if it is debatable how far its perception has moved away from the strict concept of the late 1950s and the beginning of the 1950s. 60. Austria certainly cannot be expected to abandon this approach – even in the face of Russian aggression. But Vienna will have to reconsider its relations with the Russian Federation. At the same time, in the context of Europe’s response to the war, Austria is not in trouble when it comes to tougher sanctions against Russia. She did not shout that tougher measures were not possible because they would harm Austria’s economic interests, although that was undoubtedly the case.

Why did Austria wait so long to expel Russian diplomats? That’s it come It’s only relatively recently…

This is due to the country’s neutral status – in which case the decision is more complicated than for a country that is clearly on one side of the conflict. Theoretically, such a state outwardly claims to be open to cooperation with different states, that it is not part of any pact, any power bloc. Therefore, more serious and specific reasons are needed if diplomats are to be expelled. For example, people from the Russian Embassy in the Czech Republic after what happened in Vrbětice are much more easily expelled than from a state that has maintained harmonious relations with Russia. A country like Austria needs more time and more evidence that the Russian Embassy is carrying out a campaign of espionage or influence.

And do we know how Russia perceives the current Austrian position? After all, Putin finally added this hitherto nearby state to the list of hostile countries.

He added that Austria did not oppose the EU approach and Russian sanctions. The Kremlin put the European Union on the list in one package. Until then, Austria was perceived as a relatively trouble-free partner, as an interesting country for Russian diplomatic and economic activity towards Western Europe. After the start of the conflict, however, Vienna rallied to the whole of the EU. Otherwise, I didn’t notice any specific anti-Austrian reaction from the Kremlin, nor any attempt to say that Austria is different because it is neutral. It doesn’t happen.

Moscow did not want to talk too much about the negotiations with Austria, nor comment too much on them. Could this indicate a further deterioration in relations with Austria and possibly with the West?

Relations with the West continue to deteriorate. Putin, for example, argues that the invasion of Ukraine is aimed at preventing American influence. But Austria is not specifically affected, it is seen as an EU member state covered in general Russian hatred towards the West. In Austro-Russian relations, this meeting did not change anything significant.

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