Sham Ukraine observer group ‘undesirable’

Ukraine’s SBU security service has said that it will declare a former far-right Austrian politician who led a group of 'election observers' in polls held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine over the weekend as an “undesirable”.

Sham Ukraine observer group 'undesirable'
Ewald Stadler. Photo: APA/Neubauer

About 30 observers from several European states, led by former member of the Austrian Freedom Party Ewald Stadler, entered separatist-held territory from Russia on Saturday.

After the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) refused to monitor the vote separatist officials began referring to the group of observers as the Agency for Security and Co-operation in Europe – which was supposedly founded by Stadler, who later admitted to journalists that it did not actually exist on paper.

Stadler changed the new organization’s name back and forth during a press conference, freely switching between calling it the Agency and the Association.

He also slammed Western governments for not respecting Sunday’s vote, and called for European countries to quit the OSCE and join his new group since the OSCE had allegedly shown its political bias by refusing to deploy observers to Donetsk and Lugansk for Sunday’s vote.

He was joined by other far-right MEPs who previously observed the referendum that led to Crimea's annexation by Russia in March.

The European Union has condemned the elections as "illegal" and the central government in Kiev called the polls a “farce”.

The SBU said that the “pseudo foreign observers have either already been declared as undesirables, or soon will be”. It said that they were guilty of “illegally supporting guerrillas and terrorists”.

Stadler was thrown out of the Freedom Party last year, and was found guilty in June of attempting to blackmail the party leader Heinz-Christian Strache.

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ENERGY CRISIS: Will Austria have enough gas for winter?

In recent months, there have been fears that Austria will not have enough gas for the winter season. The good news is that gas storage facilities are filling up, but by how much? Here's an update.

ENERGY CRISIS: Will Austria have enough gas for winter?

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February and the EU imposed sanctions on the Kremlin, there have been concerns in Austria about the domestic energy supply.

The biggest worry is that Austria will not have enough gas for the coming heating season, which could quickly become a crisis when coupled with skyrocketing energy prices.

On Tuesday (August 16th), the European Aggregated Gas Storage Inventory confirmed that Austria’s gas storage capacity is now 60 percent full. This is already a significant improvement from early April, when reserves were just over 10 percent full.

Austria’s goal is to reach 80 percent capacity by November 1st in order to have a safety reserve. 

READ ALSO: Where are energy prices going up (again) in Austria?

But the Wiener Zeitung reports that there are questions over where the gas has come from as Gazprom has reduced deliveries to Austria’s OMV (the partially-state owned energy company) by two thirds.

Where is the gas coming from?

Christoph Dolna-Gruber, an energy advisor at the Austrian Energy Agency, said the origin of the gas “is not explicitly known”.

For example, from October 2022 to September 2023, OMV has secured additional natural gas supplies of 40 TWh from Norway and the Netherlands, reports the Wiener Zeitung.

The Austrian Federal Government has also secured 20 TWh of gas from two tenders, of which 8.5 TWh has been confirmed by the Ministry of the Environment to be from non-Russian sources.

However, the gas storage operators do not publish data on customers and contractual partners, so the origin is not in the public domain.

The extra 20 TWh of gas will be owned by the state but it is still unclear how it will be “handled” (e.g. for domestic use or for redistribution outside of Austria).

FOR MEMBERS: Why (and when) double-digit inflation is set to hit Austria

How much gas can Austria store?

The capacity of Austria’s gas storage facilities is 95.5 terawatt hours (TWh) or 8.6 billion cubic metres. The gas is stored underground in depleted natural gas reservoirs at a depth of between 500 and 2,300 metres.

Austria’s gas storage facilities are located in Haidach, Aigelsbrunn, Auerbach (the facility is known as 7-Fields), Puchkirchen, Haag, Tallesbrunn and Schönkirchen. All of the facilities are in Salzburg or Lower Austria.

OMV manages 26 percent (25.3 TWh) of Austria’s natural gas storage volume and the rest is divided between RAG, Uniper Energy and Astora.

The Haidach storage facility was previously managed by Gazprom and Astora, but the agreement with Gazprom came to an end earlier this month after Gazprom stopped making deliveries.

Since August 1st, Haidach has been managed by Astora and RAG. 

READ ALSO: Vienna forced to dim street lighting and cancel some Christmas illuminations

How much does Austria rely on Russian gas?

Prior to the war, Austria relied on Russia for 80 percent of its total gas consumption. This has reduced in recent months but Austria is still heavily dependent on Russia for its gas supply.

And following Gazprom’s announcement on Tuesday that gas prices could rise by up to 60 percent in the coming months for European customers, Austrian residents should expect further increases to their gas bills this winter.