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Why did Austria change policy to expel Russian diplomats?

Amanda Previdelli
Amanda Previdelli - [email protected]
Why did Austria change policy to expel Russian diplomats?
Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has followed other EU countries in expelling Russian diplomats. Photo: JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP

Despite criticising other EU nations for expelling Russian diplomats on Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared four Russian representatives as "personae non gratae" just one day later. Here's why.

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Early this Thursday, Austria announced its decision to revoke the diplomatic status of three staff members of the Russian Embassy in Vienna and one staff member of the Russian Consulate General in Salzburg.

A statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the reason for the move was "the fact that their activities have not been in accordance with their diplomatic status".

According to the Ministry, those expelled had taken actions in contravention with the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the primary legal instrument which governs diplomatic relations between countries.  

The Ministry added that the staff members were declared personae non gratae under Article 9 of the Convention, which allows countries to expel diplomats without explaining their decision.

The staff members were requested to leave the territory of Austria by the end of 12 April at the latest.

 

The announcement comes after days of hesitation and statements by Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg (ÖVP) criticising other European nations for expelling Russian diplomats.

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On Wednesday, Schallenberg reaffirmed Austria's position that it would not be expelling diplomats. 

"We do not expel in bulk" Schallenberg said on Wednesday, explaining he "find(s) it regrettable that each state is acting individually here". 

However said he would consider doing so in future if there were "strong indications" of violations of the Convention by diplomats. 

"I reserve the right to expel diplomats," he said. 

Schallenberg said he was concerned that Russia would take "reciprocal action" if Austria was to expel Russian diplomats from the country.

However, the minister added that the Russian embassy in Vienna was a "propaganda machine" and that measures would be taken if evidence were to support it.

The move is seen as a symbolic step, as approximately 290 Russian diplomats remain in Austria. Austria has 33 diplomats in its embassy in Moscow. 

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Russian diplomats expelled from European countries

Since Monday, more than 200 Russian diplomats have been told to leave Europe countries after reports of civilian deaths in Ukrainian towns hit news outlets worldwide.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why isn’t Austria in NATO?

Germany, France, Bulgaria, Montenegro, Slovakia, Poland, Netherlands, Italy and several other countries have expelled Russian diplomats since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Austria has already stated that its "perpetually neutral" status was only regarding military activities. However, it would not stay neutral when it comes to human rights, as reported.

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Symbolic step

The expulsion of four diplomats can be seen as a symbolic step, as Russia currently has 146 diplomats bilaterally accredited in Austria, according to Die Presse.

READ ALSO: Is Austria’s capital Vienna really a ‘city of spies’?

Adding the number of Russian diplomats and staff in international organisations headquartered in Austria, there are a total of 290 Russian personnel in the country. At the same time, Austria has accredited 33 people to its Moscow embassy.

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