Why did Austria change policy to expel Russian diplomats?

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.

Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg. Photo: JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP
Austria's Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has followed other EU countries in expelling Russian diplomats. Photo: JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP

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.

FOR MEMBERS: EXPLAINED: Why Austria won’t allow Ukraine’s Zelensky to speak before parliament

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. 

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.

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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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?