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UKRAINE

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

As the war in Ukraine continues, it is expected that imports of Russian energy will be targeted next by EU sanctions. What could it mean for Austria?

The French government has published guidelines on what to do if you are struggling to pay your energy bills.
The Italian government has announced further discounts on energy bills and caps on petrol taxes. (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

EU leaders are currently discussing possible new sanctions on Russian oil and gas in response to Russia’s invasion and subsequent war in Ukraine.

But while most EU countries are united in their condemnation of the war and support of sanctions, cracks are starting to show when it comes to a possible embargo on the import of Russian gas.

Austria has been very vocal about its opposition to sanctions on Russian energy – mostly because Russian gas imports account for 80 percent of Austria’s entire gas consumption. 

Germany is also hesitant to support such a move as the country depends on Russian gas for around 50 percent of its total supply.

In the meantime, economic experts are trying to predict the impact of sanctions on economies within the EU – something that is not easy due to the unprecedented nature of the situation. 

Here’s what it could mean for Austria.

FOR MEMBERS: How will the war in Ukraine impact the cost of living in Austria?

What would an embargo on Russian gas mean for the economy?

A recent report by the Conseil d’analyse économique (CAE) – an economic research institute for the French government – states the economic impact of sanctions on Russian gas would lead to a decline of 0.15 to 0.3 percent on gross national income in France. 

France currently sources around 20 percent of its gas supply from Russia.

According to the CAE, the impact on Germany would be higher at 0.3 percent at the lower level, but possibly up to 3 percent. This is related to Germany’s higher dependency on Russian gas compared to France.

The report further states that economies in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Finland and the Czech Republic could see national income drop between one and five percent. This is due to a high reliance on Russian gas imports within these countries.

Austria is not mentioned in the report but to provide a comparison, Slovakia currently sources 85 percent of all gas from Russia – just five percentage points higher than Austria.

Michael Landesmann, Senior Researcher at the Vienna Institute for International Economic Studies (WIIW), told The Local: “There is not an equivalent study for Austria yet so we are a bit in the dark, but so are other modellers. It’s an unprecedented situation.”

However, Landesmann added: “​​If there was a study in Austria, it would show a similar impact to Germany, but there could be some flexibility of supply in Austria and room for negotiation because it’s a smaller country than Germany.”

READ MORE: ‘Gas and blackmail’: How Russia reported the Austrian Chancellor’s visit

Additionally, he said there are different ways that EU sanctions could be implemented to lessen the impacts and to avoid a permanent stop to the supply of Russian gas. 

Landesmann, who is also a Professor of Economics at Johannes Kepler University Linz, said: “We could possibly stop gas imports for three months. This could have a significant economic impact on Russia, and it would be a diplomatic gesture. 

“This approach would require the skilful use of existing resources and a redistribution of gas to the most important needs. But if you move industries into temporary short-time work, like in the Covid crisis, it’s not the end of the world.”

Landesmann believes the coming warmer months could be the right time to place temporary restrictions on the import of Russian gas and stressed the biggest impact on households would be a rise in prices, which could then be offset with subsidies.

He said: “We are still far away from winter, so the issue is how we use the months in between.”

But if such an approach was taken by the EU, the big question is whether Russia’s President Vladimir Putin would then be prepared to return to previous supply levels later in the year.

Landesmann said: “Of course, the whole thing would depend on the reaction of Russia, but it would be irrational of Russia to stop all gas supplies due to the economic impact [in Russia].” 

Prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Elisabeth Christen, Senior Economist at the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (Wifo), told The Local that while the EU is dependent on gas supplies from Russia, it is a “mutual dependency”. 

READ ALSO: Ukraine: What does the government’s ‘gas alert’ mean for Austria?

Which Austrian industries would be most impacted by an embargo? 

Industries in Austria with a high reliance on natural gas include chemical, agriculture, pharmaceutical (although this sector is smaller than in Germany) and steel.

This means an embargo on Russian gas would hit these industries harder than others, but Landesmann believes there are ways to mitigate the impacts.

He told The Local: “An embargo would involve a lot of changes for these industries and there could be job stoppages involved, but we know how to deal with this from the Covid crisis. We can keep people employed without them actually working.”

According to Landesmann, another possible solution could be an EU-wide initiative to redistribute the supply of gas across the bloc, which would reduce the impact on countries most impacted by an embargo.

However, as there would be less gas flowing into the country, there would still be some tough decisions to be made about which industries in Austria to prioritise with a limited gas supply.

What action has Austria already taken in response to the crisis?

The Austrian federal government has already activated the country’s gas alert system, placing Austria on level one of the three-tiered emergency plan.

The emergency plan was activated after Russia announced that future gas deliveries can only be paid for with Rubles as a consequence of international sanctions resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

So far, the supply of gas from Russia to EU countries has not been interrupted and contracts are still being fulfilled.

The Austrian Federal Government has also brought in a new gas storage law to ensure the country has a back up supply of 12.6 terawatt hours of gas. According to the Wiener Zeitung, this is equivalent to the average consumption of gas during a cold winter month in Austria.

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UKRAINE

Austrian ex-minister who danced with Putin quits Russian oil company Rosneft

Austrian ex-foreign minister Karin Kneissl, who once danced with Russian President Vladimir Putin at her wedding, has quit a board position at Russian oil giant Rosneft, the company said Monday.

Austrian ex-minister who danced with Putin quits Russian oil company Rosneft

Kneissl has submitted a letter of resignation effective from Friday, Rosneft said in a statement.

The 57-year-old made headlines when she invited Putin to her wedding in 2018 and was photographed dancing with him during the event.

She left the Austrian government the following year and joined the board of Rosneft as an independent director in June last year.

Her resignation comes after Rosneft announced Friday that German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was leaving the board after five years, a day after Germany stripped him of official perks over ties with Russia.

https://mobile.twitter.com/ORA_03113/status/1528680172047720448 

On Friday, Kneissl told AFP that she intended to stay on for her one-year mandate but had told Rosneft in March that she would not seek a further term on the board. Kneissl’s personal website includes several interviews to RT, a Russian state-funded news organisation, the latest two days before Russia launched its military operation in Ukraine on February 24.

Rosneft in its statement thanked Kneissl for her work during the “complex” international situation, saying it was counting on future collaboration with her as an expert.

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