Focus on Austria

Chancellor criticized ahead of special Ukraine summit

25.02.2024 21:54

French President Emmanuel Macron has called a special summit on Ukraine on Monday to send a signal against "Ukraine fatigue". Karl Nehammer is following the call from Paris and will be attending the meeting. However, Austria's role in the conflict is already coming into focus in the run-up to the summit - including heavy criticism of the Federal Chancellor.

"The purpose of the summit is to take stock of the situation and hold strategic discussions on how to proceed in relation to the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine," said the Federal Chancellery.

In addition to the other EU states, the USA, Canada, Norway and Great Britain have also been invited. Nehammer will travel to Paris to present the Austrian position and thus also "represent the perspective of a neutral state with a strong voice".

Criticism of Austria and Nehammer
Austria's role has repeatedly been heavily criticized internationally. In particular, the billions in gas payments to the Russian regime are repeatedly branded as "blood money". Ukraine expert and journalist Paul Ronzheimer, who is known for his sharp rhetoric, takes Nehammer to task accordingly.

No one in Europe would have forgotten "what an embarrassing trip to Moscow to see Putin Austria's chancellor tried to stage two years ago". Nehammer would have been used for "Russian propaganda" at the expense of Ukraine. "Nobody needs any advice from him," Ronzheimer said in response to Nehammer's announcement.

Austria is likely to receive a special focus at the special summit due to its close trade relations with Russia. Ukraine is particularly bothered by the Russian business of Raiffeisen Bank International (RBI), which is referred to in EU circles behind closed doors as "Putin's cash machine". Although RBI has since scaled back its business in Russia, it still generates a large part of its consolidated profit in the country.

NEOS call for gas phase-out
In Austria, the NEOS party is particularly critical of the country's energy dependence on Russia. Party leader Beate Meinl-Reisinger once again urged the adoption of a new security strategy and an exit from Russian gas on Sunday.

Austrians pay a comparatively high price per kilowatt hour:

With regard to the latter, the government must finally "put the gas supply contracts between OMV and Russia's Gazprom on the table", Meinl-Reisinger demanded on ORF's "Pressestunde" program. A law is also needed to create the basis for withdrawing from the contracts.

"In Austria, people pay four times as much for gas as in other countries," argued the NEOS leader, who sees an "obligation on the part of the government" to "clarify what is in the contract". Research by "Krone " also shows that domestic end consumers are currently paying more.

The fact that OMV is not terminating the contracts is "understandable", but the fact that the government is not is not. Meinl-Reisinger does not see any risk for end customers in the event of an exit.

Meinl-Reisinger wants to discuss neutrality
Meinl-Reisinger also wants to discuss neutrality "openly and honestly". This has already changed as a result of joining the EU. "We are obliged to provide assistance." A proper security strategy is needed, which will be negotiated in parliament - also with the FPÖ. If the NEOS have their way, citizens should also be involved in the process, for example in a citizens' council. "It is only honest to say that we need to have a debate about what we mean by that."

SPÖ energy spokesperson Alois Schroll also criticized the government's inadequate measures to reduce dependence on Russian gas in a press release on Sunday and called for decisive steps to be taken. "It is unacceptable that Minister Gewessler is only now, after two years of the Ukraine conflict, taking action."

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens) admitted on ZiB2 on Sunday evening that she had not yet seen OMV's contracts with Gazprom herself. She also had to abide by the law, as OMV is a public limited company, Gewessler said. However, it was clear that they wanted to get out of the contracts, and everyone was called upon to do so, OMV, ÖBAG and the Ministry of Finance.

Austria a "useful idiot"?
Last year, the business magazine "Economist" described Austria as one of Vladimir Putin's most important henchmen due to its close ties to Russia. The Republic was ranked second on a list of "useful idiots".

It is clear that other EU states are now independent of Russia's gas. Two years after the start of the war, Austria still mainly obtains gas from Russia. In December - data for 2024 is not yet available - 98% of total imports came from Russian sources.

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