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Austria commits to neutrality, even as Russia destroys Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

Room for geopolitical neutrality has shrunk throughout Europe since February 24, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

The continent’s evolving safety structure has prompted Sweden and Finland to desert their historic non-alignment and even Switzerland is shifting nearer to NATO.

Nevertheless, Austria continues to sit down on the fence and Vienna has no plans to affix NATO regardless of the continuing conflict.

Austria, a European Union (EU) member, companions with NATO in numerous capacities and the nation has change into extra built-in into the EU’s safety framework.

On this context, some analysts label Austria as primarily a free rider, merely surviving by luck whereas remaining exterior of NATO.

Practically six months into the Ukrainian disaster, there is no such thing as a critical debate in Austria about formally becoming a member of NATO.

Eighty % of Austrians help staying out of the Western alliance whereas the spirit of neutrality stays in style amongst Austrian politicians throughout the spectrum.

On March 7, Chancellor Karl Nehammer, a conservative politician, tweeted that Austrian neutrality is “not up for debate” and the chief of the center-left Social Democratic Celebration of Austria (SPO), Pamela Rendi-Wagner, continuously calls Vienna’s neutrality “non-negotiable.”

The correct-wing Austrian Freedom Celebration (FPO) has the identical pro-neutrality place and so does the pacifist Inexperienced Celebration.


“After the horrible expertise of two World Wars and the Nazi terror regime, neutrality is deeply rooted within the mindset of the Austrian inhabitants,” Wolfgang Pusztai, the previous Austrian defence attaché, informed Al Jazeera.

Because the Nineteen Fifties, neutrality has lengthy been tied to Austria’s freedom.

After World Battle II, the battle’s victors cut up Austria underneath zones of occupation. Then in 1955, the US, UK, France, and the USSR signed the Austrian State Treaty, requiring Austria to declare everlasting neutrality and exist as a buffer zone between the West and the East.

“Usually talking, the recognition of neutrality in Austria is rather more primarily based on delusion and legend than knowledgeable opinion,” mentioned Christoph Schwarz, a analysis fellow on the Austrian Institute for European and Safety Coverage, in an interview with Al Jazeera.

“Most of the people associates neutrality very strongly with financial prosperity and safety, each of which Austria loved an abundance of over the previous 60-70 years.”

Through the years, this international coverage technique has helped the nation preserve its defence prices comparatively low.

Neutrality has additionally enabled Austria to combine into the West’s financial structure whereas additionally reaping rewards of commerce with the Soviet Union and later Russia.

As the primary Western nation to signal a pure fuel settlement with the USSR in 1968, Austria stays depending on Russian hydrocarbons. At the moment, fuel closely components into Austria’s pursuits in avoiding actions that would excessively antagonise President Vladimir Putin’s authorities in Moscow.

Status, diplomatic Affect

Past economics and vitality, neutrality within the Chilly Battle and post-Chilly Battle intervals has additionally elevated Austria’s function on the worldwide stage as “a venue for rapprochement between the East and West,” defined Schwarz.

Vienna – together with New York, Geneva, and Nairobi – has change into a key workplace website of the UN, in addition to the placement for the Worldwide Atomic Vitality Company (IAEA), the Group for Safety and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), and The Group of the Petroleum Exporting International locations and OPEC’s headquarters.

“A critical debate relating to Austria’s neutrality can be helpful for [Austria] to make clear what serves its nationwide pursuits in a greater means. A preliminary query can be to discover if all of the worldwide organisations would keep in Vienna if Austria would be part of NATO,” identified Pusztai.

Most Austrians consider their nation is positioned as a diplomatic bridge and buffer between the East and West – which bodes properly for nationwide defence.

Rendi-Wagner argued that “impartial states don’t characterize a risk to nice powers and that strengthens our safety.”

Finally, Austria shouldn’t be underneath any navy risk from a international energy with all its neighbours being fellow EU-members, Switzerland, and the micro-state of Liechtenstein.

And Austria, in contrast to Sweden and Finland, doesn’t require membership in NATO for defence.

As Pusztai informed Al Jazeera, “Becoming a member of NATO is extra a query of worldwide solidarity”.

‘Not a pleasant go to’

In April, Nehammer grew to become the primary Western chief to fulfill Putin after the conflict erupted.

He did so with the goal of giving Austrian diplomacy a shot, hoping that Vienna’s mediation might assist wind down the battle. But, because the Austrian chancellor emphasised on the time, “this isn’t a pleasant go to.”

Nevertheless, Nehammer’s journey to Moscow didn’t produce tangible outcomes.

Benjamin L Schmitt, a analysis affiliate at Harvard College and senior fellow on the Heart for European Coverage Evaluation, informed Al Jazeera that “Austria’s self-defined geopolitical place as a so-called ‘bridge’ between Russia and the West has been thrown into vital doubt for the reason that onset of Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.”

This disaster in Ukraine has served to “undermine Vienna’s geopolitical idea {that a} ‘center’ place between East and West might serve to by some means mitigate such a battle,” added Schmitt.

Austria’s official line is that neutrality should not be confused with indifference or passivity.

Overseas Minister Alexander Schallenberg mentioned that Vienna is “serving to [Ukraine] on a big scale however not with conflict munition and I believe assist for Ukraine can’t solely be diminished to conflict munition.”

Together with 140 different UN member-states, Austria voted in favour of the March 2 Basic Meeting decision condemning Russia’s invasion.

Past that vote, Austria has supported Ukraine with non-lethal weapons, corresponding to donating humanitarian help and protecting gear.

Consequently, Austrian-Russian relations have deteriorated since February 24.

“Ties with Russia are diminished to the naked minimal,” mentioned Pusztai. “Austria was a most well-liked vacation spot for investments of Russian oligarchs. Many had even a residence in Austria. Now most of their belongings are frozen.”

Nervous about Austria’s publicity to Moscow’s potential to weaponise its vitality exports, Vienna has joined fellow EU members in working to diversify fuel sources away from Russia.

Because the conflict started, Austria has diminished the share of its Russia-sourced fuel imports from 80 to 50 %.

“When the time comes that any type of dialogue on battle decision appears attainable, Austria will wish to place itself as a mediator. Primarily based on what could possibly be noticed thus far, Austria will, nevertheless, not be in any place to fulfil this function,” mentioned Schwarz.

“Austria is undermining its place as a impartial mediator via ever-closer integration throughout the EU. Russia, at the least underneath its present management, will most definitely not settle for Austria in a mediating function.”

In accordance with Pusztai, Austrian politicians who suppose Vienna can mediate between the West and Moscow are “solely unrealistic” and engaged in “wishful pondering”

The previous defence attaché cited a “lack of trustworthy evaluation of the worldwide atmosphere and an aversion to noticeably evaluating benefits and downsides of the impartial standing.”

Some NATO members and Ukraine have accused Vienna of sustaining ethical ambiguity. Whereas this accusation might injury Austria’s repute amongst its neighbours, it’s extremely unlikely to lead to Austria becoming a member of NATO any time quickly.

However Scharwz warned that there might come a day “when this technique comes with an enormous price ticket connected”.



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