Calls for Russian-owned Austrian hotels to be opened to refugees

Three hotels owned by oligarch Andrey Metelsky should be opened to Ukrainian refugees, according to Tyrolean NEOS leader Dominik Oberhofer. The Alpine hotels are currently threatened with foreclosure.

Water, snacks, toiletries and even pet food are distributed throughout the day. Photo: Emma Midgley
Water, snacks, toiletries and even pet food are distributed throughout the day. Photo: Emma Midgley

As more Ukrainians arrive in Austria, there are calls for a string of Russian-owned hotels in Tyrol to be transformed into accommodation for refugees.

Mozart Hotel Vital in Ried, and Hotel Maximilian and Hotel Tirolerhof, both in Serfaus, are all owned by Andrey Metelsky, the head of Moscow’s branch of Vladimir Putin’s ruling party United Russia.

All three hotels have been threatened with auction since 2020 after missed payments to Tiroler Sparkasse during the pandemic. The Tiroler Tageszeitung reports more than €3 million is owed to the bank.

READ MORE: How Austria and Austrians are helping Ukrainian refugees

Now, Dominik Oberhofer from the Tyrolean branch of the New Austria and Liberal Forum (NEOS), has called on Metelsky to open up the hotels as refugee accommodation.

Oberhofer said: “While yachts, castles, etc. are being confiscated in other European countries, I advocate in Tyrol that we now confront Mr. Metelsky with the demand. It’s time for him to show his colours.”

Dmitry Leonovich, manager of the hotels in Tyrol, confirmed to the Tiroler Tageszeitung that the auction procedures will not impact the operations of the hotels.

READ ALSO: UPDATE: Almost 120,000 refugees have arrived in Austria from Ukraine

Additionally, another Metelsky-owned company, Sotour Austria Hotelbetriebs GmbH in Vienna, recently filed for bankruptcy, although it is also reported this will not impact the hotels in Tyrol.

In 2019, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused Metelsky of hiding ownership of the hotels in the Austrian Alps, as well as a hotel and mansion in Vienna. 

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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.