Ukraine conflict: Would NATO protect non-member Austria?

Even though Austria is not a NATO member, the military alliance has made a commitment to protect its EU partners, Austria's chancellor says.

Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Photo: Geert Vanden WIJNGAERT / POOL / AFP)
Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Photo: Geert Vanden WIJNGAERT / POOL / AFP)

Austria will be protected by NATO in the event of Russian aggression, Chancellor Karl Nehammer has told Der Standard newspaper.

At the EU summit last week in Paris, the EU states promised those neutral EU countries that are not members of NATO, such as Austria, military assistance in the event of an attack.

According to the Chancellor, the assistance would come due to the EU assistance obligation pact. This applies to EU countries such as Malta, Ireland, Cyprus, Austria, Finland and Sweden. Nehammer (ÖVP) told the newspaper the promise had “remarkable clarity”.

However, he emphasised there were no plans for an EU army.

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

The summit brought together European Union leaders to discuss the bloc’s security policy, especially in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The war in Europe

Nehammer also mentioned that the large European states have more responsibility when it comes to issues such as the war in Ukraine. However, he said that the concern is more significant for the smaller States on the border with the Russian Federation, as they are “specially affected” by the war.

Sharing the information he received at the summit, the Austrian said that the assessments given by those leaders who maintain talks with Putin are “not very optimistic”.

The strong Ukrainian resistance can “lead to the use of ever-stronger weapons”, he said. 

He reiterated the importance of the EU, NATO, and the US to refrain from military actions. The goal is to keep this war in Europe from escalating, Nehammer said. 

The chancellor was clear: there are no European plans to intervene militarily in the war. However, with the approved economic and weapon support, “there is a very clear support for one of the war participants”, Nehammer said.

EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Austria in NATO?

Austria neutrality

When asked whether the “clear support” would hurt Austria’s neutrality principle, Nehammer explained that the country applied a so-called “constructive abstention”.

In practice, in the military matters, Austria had abstained from voting to make the decision of other states, specifically the NATO states in the EU, possible. Nehammer said that other non-NATO members, such as Ireland and Malta, had done the same.

He added that it is not the moment to discuss fundamental things such as the country’s security policy orientation during a time of crisis. This is not the first time the chancellor has spoken out against questioning and debating Austria’s neutrality in international affairs.

Nehammer recently reiterated: “Austria was neutral, Austria is neutral, Austria will also remain neutral”. He used the exact words now when talking to Der Standard.

“Neutrality has always proven useful for Austria and the people in the country”, the chancellor said.

Useful vocabulary

EU-Gipfel – EU summit

europäischen Sicherheitspolitik – European security policy

Friedensvertrag – peace treaty

Waffenstillstand – cease fire

Krieg – war

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?