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UKRAINE

EXPLAINED: What would ‘Austrian-style neutrality’ mean for Ukraine?

Russia has demanded Ukraine adopt 'Austrian-style neutrality'. But what does that mean?

Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen (R) and his wife Doris Schmidauer (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (2ndR) and his wife Olena Zelenska (2ndL) listen to the national anthems in Vienna, Austria on September 15, 2020, during a welcoming ceremony at the beginning of Zelensky's state visit. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP
Austrian President Alexander Van Der Bellen (R) and his wife Doris Schmidauer (L) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (2ndR) and his wife Olena Zelenska (2ndL) listen to the national anthems in Vienna, Austria on September 15, 2020, during a welcoming ceremony at the beginning of Zelensky's state visit. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

The Kremlin on Wednesday called for Kyiv to adopt a status similar to Sweden and Austria, describing it as a “compromise” option as the two countries grind through conflict talks nearly three weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Nehammer on Russian sanctions: ‘Austria is and will remain neutral’

But Kyiv quickly rejected the proposal, saying talks with Moscow to end fighting should focus on “security guarantees”.

But what exactly would ‘Austrian neutrality’ look like in Ukraine?

In Austria, the policy of neutrality was imposed by the then Soviet Union as a price for the end of the Allies’ post-war occupation of the country in 1955.

“Neutrality is part of the country’s identity,” says Martin Senn, political scientist at Innsbruck university.

The policy offered the country an honourable way of exiting the rubble of World War II and avoiding the blame for complicity in the Nazi regime.

Ukraine conflict: Would NATO protect non-member Austria?

It then made use of its status to host high-profile international organisations and summits including between then US president John F Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev in 1961, and their successors Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev in 1979.

However, since the end of the Cold War, Austria has taken several steps towards the Western camp. It joined the European Union in 1995 and participated in the joint security and defence policy outlined in the 2009 Lisbon treaty.

Austria has said its neutrality does not prevent it from condemning breaches of international law and has condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Austria in NATO?

But according to Senn, there has never been “a true discussion on the issue of neutrality”, which is now “urgently needed”.

Military figures have also spoken out in favour of more defence spending, a stance backed by the public in a recent survey.

In the EU, only Ireland and Malta spend a lower share of their GDP on defence than in Austria, where the figure stands at 0.7 percent.

EXPLAINED: Why Switzerland’s neutrality has always been ‘malleable’

Austria’s government — headed by ex-soldier Karl Nehammer — has said it wants to boost this to one percent to match neighbouring Switzerland.

Despite this, Nehammer has ruled out any change to the country’s officially neutral status.

Looking at the opinion polls, it’s not hard to see why — despite the war, four out of five Austrians are still opposed to the idea of joining NATO.

Member comments

  1. Being a neutral country has been a positive development if Austrian history, it helped them get through the cold war and they still joined the EU like similar likeminded nations.

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UKRAINE

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?

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