Putin in Vienna: a thaw between Russia and the EU?

In Vienna on his first state visit since his re-election, Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the case for an end to the international sanctions against his country. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz stressed that he hopes for progress in the dialogue between Russia and the EU. Can Austria become the new mediator between the East and West or is this role too risky?

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Delo (SI) /

Austria as wise as during the Cold War

Vienna is right to maintain good relations with Moscow, as it did during the Cold War, Delo maintains:

“After World War II Austria escaped the fate of divided Germany because it was neutral. Although it was secretly an ally of Nato, it nevertheless introduced the wise doctrine of 'active neutrality' in the 1970s under Social Democratic chancellor Bruno Kreisky. This turned this small and 'unimportant' country into a diplomatic power to be reckoned with. ... Like Sebastian Kurz, back then Kreisky also knew that only dialogue can end international crises and prevent major escalations.”

Upsala Nya Tidning (SE) /

Vienna becoming a security risk

Austria is playing a risky game, Upsala Nya Tidning warns:

“The Freedom Party is trying to show off with its international contacts, and Putin can rejoice at having good relations with a party that plays an important role in the government of an EU country. But it's common knowledge that other EU members are now being careful not to share important information regarding Russia with Austria. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly voiced concern that the Freedom Party could pass information on to Moscow. The risk that such a thing could happen is clear to all. What can Austria gain by squandering the trust of other EU member states?”

444.hu (HU) /

Putin's dubious cosying up

The news website 444.hu tries to guess what strategy Putin is following with his visit to Vienna:

“While the Russian government has been supporting movements that aim to weaken or abolish the EU for years with money and by manipulating news, in Vienna Putin said that a strong EU was in Russia's interest. After having backed the Brexit movement and anti-European parties for years, that was either cynical or he wanted to signal that in exchange for an end to the sanctions he would be willing to refrain from manipulating elections in Europe in the future.”

Izvestia (RU) /

Symbolic of a new stance towards Russia

Vienna may be able to finally get things moving forward on the issue of EU sanctions against Russia, hopes Izvestia, which has close ties to the Kremlin:

“The Republic of Austria is something special for us, because it serves as an example of the legitimacy and efficacy of our pragmatic approach to cooperation with all those forces in Europe that have a friendly stance towards us. In other words, with countries that share our vision of the continent's future regardless of their ideology or their current political clout. If in the past one could say that Russia's friends defined European policy, in recent times the supporters of closer relations with our country have either come to power or are on their way there in Austria, Bulgaria, Italy and other decisive EU member states.”

Die Welt (DE) /

Kurz can heal the rifts

Austria's chancellor has managed to establish himself as one of the Americans' and Russians' favourite dialogue partners, the daily paper Die Welt observes:

“From the point of view of Putin and Trump, Kurz has a resolute approach in foreign policy while the French president seems more amateurish on the diplomatic stage, for example in the case of Libya recently. And the German chancellor comes across as weary. For Kurz this is an opportunity. He can become the bridge-builder that Europe so urgently needs. And build bridges not just with Washington and Moscow, but also between the frequently quarrelling EU member states. Above all he can revive the severely damaged relationship between the EU and Warsaw. ... Austria's EU presidency, which starts on July 1, is a major opportunity - for Kurz and for the European Union.”

Die Presse (AT) /

Austria overestimating its role as mediator

Finland should serve as a model for how to handle Russia, Die Presse concludes:

“The Finns share a long border and close economic ties with Russia, and have to go through all the highs and lows in the West's relationship with Russia. But no one can accuse them of being Russophiles or Russophobes. They simply maintain a pragmatic relationship with Moscow, and Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini explained recently in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung how this is done: 'You tell the truth, stand by it and don't keep changing your mind. Russia respects this. At the same time it's important to the Russians that they're not made to look ridiculous. They want respect.' Truth, openness, steadfastness, respect - how about trying out this level-headed form of diplomacy for a change instead of the tired old bridge-builder phrases à l'autrichienne?”