A look at Austrian-Russian relations, and why the Austrian media and opposition are calling for the resignation of the country’s foreign minister
The 53-year-old Foreign Minister of Austria Karin Kneissl married 65-year-old businessman Wolfgang Meilinger on 18 August.
The event received global attention thanks to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s attendance.
Putin brought with him a wedding gift: the Kuban Cossack Choir, which performed a wedding song for the newly-weds. Vladimir Putin and Karin Kneissl also shared a slow dance.
Putin’s gift cost the Russian tax-payers some 20 000 US dollars, the BBC reported.
The Austrian tax-payers also had to shell out several hundred thousand euros due to security measures for the Russian president, despite the fact that his visit was allegedly private.
Now, the Austrian media is demanding the Austrian FM’s resignation.
Russian-Austrian Relations – Karin Kneissl and Vladimir Putin
Karin Kneissl has been the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria since 18 December 2017 and has repeatedly spoken out in favor of a dialogue between Europe and Russia.
The Austrian authorities have in recent years been less outspoken about Russia’s activities abroad, than other countries of the European Union have. Once the new cabinet was sworn in – including Kneissl – Vienna began advocating a rapprochement with Moscow.
Austria is the only large country within the European Union that did not expel Russian diplomats after the poisoning case of former Russian intelligence officer Sergey Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury.
“In difficult times, it is necessary to maintain a dialogue,” Kneissl said at the time.
In March 2018, she said that Austria is ready to act as a mediator between Moscow and London.
Kneissl has also called for cooperation with Russia in the Middle East.
Vladimir Putin seldom accepts invitations to private events. Two years ago, for example, he was not present at the wedding of his spokesman Dmitry Peskov and figure skater Tatyana Navka.
Russian gas and Putin’s trip to Austria
Many global media outlets have written that the unexpected and rare appearance of Putin in Austria is connected with the fact that Austria hosts some of the most important gas infrastructure units through which gas is further distributed to Europe. The gas issue has become increasingly important for Russia given the harsh economic sanctions placed on it by the USA.
The Austrian media’s reaction to Putin’s visit and the Cossack choir
Almost immediately, a number of leading Austrian papers wrote that the Austrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have to work incessantly to respond to the criticism it has received and convince the press that Vienna’s foreign policy position will not change.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria has released a statement in which it said that ‘[this] was a private ceremony and visit’ and ‘[this does not entail] any change in the foreign policy course of Austria‘.
However, a European Parliament member from The Greens – The Green Alternative, Michel Reimon, has demanded Kneissl’s resignation over the affair. Several other Austrian media outlets have made similar demands.
The Kuban Cossack Choir
The Kuban Cossack Choir regularly performs at state events in Russia and receives significant presidential grants. The main support for the choir comes from a group of companies owned by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripasky.
The artistic director of the choir, Viktor Zakharchenko, worked as the co-chairman of the Krasnodar headquarters of public support for Vladimir Putin in the presidential elections of 2018.
The choir was a collective representative of the 2018 FIFA World Cup and performed in Sochi at the FIFA fans festival on the first day of the tournament.