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UPDATED: How Austria could be impacted by the war in Ukraine

Leaders around the world, including in Austria, condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. We take a look at Austria’s stance on the crisis and how the country could be impacted.

Ukrainian servicemen attend a drill near Lviv. Photo: AFP

On Thursday morning, Europe woke up to the news that Russia has launched a full military attack on Ukraine with bombardments and troops invading the country.

This follows weeks of diplomatic negotiations and the recent introduction of economic sanctions on Russia by the EU, UK, USA and other countries around the world.

So far, Austria has taken a cautious political approach to the situation as European neighbours and other western nations have publicly spoken out against a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This all changed earlier this week when on Tuesday Chancellor Karl Nehammer said: “We [Austria] are neutral, but not without opinion.”

On Thursday, in a reaction to the military action in Ukraine, Nehammer went further and said: “What we are witnessing is a breach of international law.”

Again, Austria’s status as a neutral country is in the spotlight and Nehammer highlighted how Austria has offered to serve as a platform for diplomatic dialogue in the crisis, especially as the host country of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is headquartered in Vienna.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: The history behind Austria’s neutrality

What does “neutral” mean?

Austria has a long standing neutral political stance that is rooted in the 1955 Austrian State Treaty and binds Austria to a position of neutrality.

This neutrality also means Austria is not a NATO member, unlike other European countries like Germany and France, so is not bound to support NATO in the event of political and military action, although Austria does support NATO on peacekeeping operations.

But there is more to Austria’s approach to the current crisis than just political neutrality, as Austria is heavily dependent on Russian gas to fulfil its energy demands, just like many other countries across Europe.

What has Austria said about the crisis?

On Thursday, Nehammer reiterated Austria’s solidarity with Ukraine and support of the EU sanctions against Russia. He said the sanctions will be discussed further on Thursday evening at a special EU summit.

As a result, he warned there could be “consequences” for Austria, but confirmed Austria’s energy supply for the remaining winter months is secure.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) has previously publicly stated that he is against EU sanctions on gas from Russia because Europe is dependent on Russian gas.

READ ALSO: How does Austria’s presidential election work?

However, on Thursday morning Schallenberg took to Twitter to condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

He added in a separate Tweet: “The #EU and its partners will respond swiftly and decisively to this blatant breach of international law.”

Additionally, Schallenberg has previously said the Russian-owned – and controversial – Nord Stream 2 pipeline should be excluded from any possible sanctions on the grounds that it is not yet operational.

On Tuesday, when asked whether Austria and Germany are opposed to sanctions on Nord Stream 2, Chancellor Nehammer dismissed it as a rumour and confirmed Austrian support for the EU. Germany has since announced certification for the pipeline has been put on hold.

READ MORE: How reliant is Austria on Russia for energy?

Nord Stream 2 is a new pipeline by Gazprom that will further supply gas to Europe via the Baltic Sea. Ukraine is against the pipeline on the grounds that less gas would be transported through the country, resulting in less money flowing into the Ukrainian economy.

Austria’s previous rejection of sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was criticised by the former Ukrainian Ambassador to Austria who described the move as “cold hearted”.

Could Austria’s economy be impacted by the crisis?

Elisabeth Christen, Senior Economist at the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Wifo) told The Local that 80 percent of Austria’s gas is currently imported from Russia and that most of the EU is heavily dependent on Russian gas.

This means Austria is in a delicate position, which goes deeper than Austria’s commitment to neutrality.

However, Christen said Russia’s economy is also very reliant on capital from exporting gas, so while Austria – and Europe – relies on Russia to meet energy demands, it is a “mutual dependence”.

Apart from gas supplies though, Austria’s economy is not closely tied to Russia with just 1.5 percent of imports and 1.5 percent of exports flowing between the two countries.

READ MORE: Cost of living in Austria: 2021 inflation at highest level in a decade

Christen told The Local: “There are just €2.2 billion exchanged in trade flows between Austria and Russia, so Russia is not a huge trading partner. 

“Russia used to be more important for Austria before 2014 [the annexation of Crimea], but due to the subsequent economic sanctions, the importance of Russia to the Austrian economy has diminished.

“Russia is still important for tourism as Russian tourists spend more than the average tourist, especially in the ski resorts, but Russian tourism levels are currently lower in Austria than in recent years.”

Across the EU, 47 percent of all gas supplies come from Russia. Norway is the second largest gas importing country to Europe, supplying 21 percent of all gas to EU countries.

Could Austria’s gas supply be affected? 

One big question is whether Austria could run out of gas due to supplies being interrupted by military conflict in Ukraine or harsh sanctions imposed on Russia. 

Currently, gas is supplied from Russia to European countries (including Austria) on a long-term contractual basis. Russia is still fulfilling existing contracts within Europe but has ruled out providing any additional supplies, even as energy prices continue to rise and supplies are constrained.

As a result, Christen ruled out the possibility of Austria running out of gas in the short term and said Austria also has a reserve storage of gas, although it is currently at just 25 percent.

FOR MEMBERS: Rising energy prices: How to save money on bills in Austria

Christen said: “Compared to other years the storage level is lower because the winter has been cold and there is a huge supply issue at the moment due to the rebound of economic activity [following Covid-19 lockdowns], so Austria’s gas storage is not as good as in previous years.”

In the worst case scenario of gas reserves running low, Christen said existing supplies could be limited within Austria and Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) could be sourced from other countries.

The Kurier reports that the supply of energy in Austria is protected by the Energy Control Act which means, in the event of gas shortages, large commercial customers would be asked to reduce their consumption before households would be impacted. 

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.