Austria to send protective equipment and fuel to Ukraine

Austria will provide helmets and protective equipment for civilian forces in Ukraine, Chancellor Karl Nehammer confirmed on Monday, while the country is also preparing for a possible influx of refugees.

Chancellor of Austria Karl Nehammer speaks to the press as he arrives to attend an European Union Summit with all 27 EU leaders at The European Council Building in Brussels on December 16, 2021. - The lightning spread of Omicron in Europe and elsewhere has added a sense of urgency to an EU summit on December 16, 2021, with leaders struggling to present a united, bloc-wide approach. (Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard / various sources / AFP)
Chancellor of Austria Karl Nehammer speaks to the press as he arrives to attend an European Union Summit with all 27 EU leaders at The European Council Building in Brussels on December 16, 2021. - (Photo by Kenzo Tribouillard / various sources / AFP)

Austria has decided to send Ukraine helmets, protective equipment for civilian forces, and fuel supplies, chancellor Karl Nehammer said after a meeting with the crisis committee on Monday, 28th of February. 

Nehammer stated that the situation in Ukraine is still unpredictable, especially as Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to put nuclear forces on high alert on Sunday. 

“We will do everything possible to protect Austrians and prepare our country in the best possible way for any effects of a worsening of the situation,” the chancellor said, Der Standard reported.

He added that there is no reason for panic in the country and no need to stockpile goods and products. 

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

The country will also send further assistance to Ukraine, the chancellor said.

The aid package includes 100,000 litres of fuel. This adds to last week’s €2.5m for the Red Cross and the other humanitarian agencies and convoys with donations that Austria has sent to Ukraine.

In addition, a second aid package will contain a further €15m for Austria’s Foreign Minister’s Foreign Disaster Fund.

Non-lethal aid

Austria will continue sending non-lethal aid to Ukrainians, including 10,000 helmets destined to protect the civilian population. 

This follows Austria’s long-standing neutrality policy, with the Austrian State Treaty declaring that Austria can’t join a military alliance, allow the establishment of foreign military bases within Austria, or participate in a war.

READ MORE: The history behind Austria’s commitment to neutrality

Despite that, the country has positioned itself against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and will continue to participate in the European Union sanctions against Russia, Nehammer said.

The government is also in consultation with Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, and Romania regarding the Ukrainian refugees fleeing war.

“Austria is well prepared” to help the refugees, Nehammer claimed.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expects 1.2 million people to seek refuge beyond Ukraine’s national borders; many of them are expected to come to Austria.

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‘Unimaginable’: Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

As an "emergency measure", Austria is getting ready to reopen a coal-fuelled power station near Graz amid fears there will be disruptions to the gas supply from Russia this winter.

'Unimaginable': Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

At the Mellach coal power plant in southern Austria, spider webs have taken over the conveyor belts, and plants and flowers have sprung up around the vast lot that once stored coal.

The plant, Austria’s last coal-fuelled power station, was closed in the spring of 2020, but now the government – nervous that Russia may cut its crucial gas deliveries further – has decided to get the site ready again in case it’s needed.

“I never would have imagined that we would restart the factory,” Peter Probst, a 55-year-old welder, told AFP during a visit of the plant.

“It’s really sad to be so dependent on gas,” he added.

READ ALSO: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Europe had been trying to move away from coal in the fight against climate change.

But as Russia has cut gas deliveries in the wake of sanctions the West has imposed on it for the war in Ukraine, European countries are turning back to coal.

Today, the Mellach plant’s white and red chimney stands out amid fields of corn and pumpkins, the city of Graz in the distance.

Inside, the walls are black, and coal dust clings to the doors and railings.

Some 450,000 tonnes of coal were stored at the plant before its closure as Austria’s conservative-Greens coalition aimed to have all electricity come from renewable resources by 2030.

Site manager Christof Kurzmann-Friedl says the plant operated by supplier Verbund can be ready again in “about four months” — just in time to help tackle any gas shortages in winter.

READ MORE: When will you get your cost of living ‘bonus’ payments in Austria?

Welder Peter Probst reacts to the news that the coal-fuelled power plant in Mellach will be reopened. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“Emergency measure”

Chancellor Karl Nehammer insisted on Monday that the plant would only go online if necessary, while Austria holds on to its goals to reduce emissions.

“It’s really an emergency measure,” the conservative told foreign correspondents at a briefing.

“It’s really something that shows how extraordinary our times are… We must prepare for any eventuality.”

The 230 megawatt power plant would take over from the nearby gas-fired plant, also operated by Verbund, which currently supplies heating to Graz’s 300,000 inhabitants, according to Kurzmann-Friedl.

FOR MEMBERS: EU oil embargo: How will the sanctions impact Austria?

He warned, however, that the site must still be readied, hooking up all the equipment again, in addition to hiring qualified personnel and above all finding enough coal.

Before, the coal mainly came from mines in Poland’s Silesia region, which the Polish government is aiming to shut.

Because coal prices have risen by as much as three times since 2020, the power produced by the plant will also be more expensive, Kurzmann-Friedl said.

Criticism has already flared with the opposition Social Democrats slamming the decision to reactivate the coal plant as “an act of desperation by the Greens”.

“Will the next step be the reactivation of Zwentendorf?” the opposition asked, referring to the country’s only nuclear power plant.

The Alpine nation of nine million people has been fiercely anti-nuclear with an unprecedented vote in 1978 against nuclear energy that prevented the plant from ever opening.