Easing of sanctions against Russia, the relations with the US and the European Union were the main topics discussed during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.
Putin’s visit to Austria was the first state visit to an EU member state since being re-elected as Russian president in March.
Notionally scheduled to commemorate 50 years since Austria became the first western European country to sign a natural gas deal with the Soviet Union, the visit also offered the Russian and Austrian leaders opportunities to advance their respective geopolitical agendas, with Kurz, 32, pushing his credentials as a bridge builder between east and west.
The Guardian said that the state visit provided Putin, the friendliest of platforms for a charm offensive. Austria is not a member state of Nato and was one of the few EU countries not to expel Russian diplomats over the Skripal attack. The country also continues to be a major hub for the import of Russian gas into Europe, and its trade with Russia increased by 40% over the past year, in spite of the sanction regime.
The Guardian and BBC report that Vladimir Putin lobbied for the phasing out of economic sanctions and dodged questions about the shooting down of flight MH17. “Both those who initiate these actions and those such measures that we call sanctions are aimed against find them harmful claiming that European countries were merely “finding it hard to say so”. Reuters said that “Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, whose conservatives control EU policy, repeated that Vienna would not break ranks with the rest of the bloc, which says the situation in eastern Ukraine must improve before sanctions can be lifted.
“We hope that through more intensive dialogue there will be progress in the relations between the EU and Russia,” Kurz told reporters. “In particular we hope that there is progress eastern Ukraine to … lift the sanctions step by step.”
POLITICO said that “the focus of the eight-hour visit was more on ceremony and symbolism than substance, however, and the private discussions were relatively short. Upon arrival at Vienna’s imperial palace, the former residence of the Habsburgs that now houses the presidential offices, Putin received military honours. He also visited a memorial to the Red Army in central Vienna, where he laid a wreath. He thanked the Austrian people for tending the graves of “the soldiers who freed the country from fascism.”