Austrian Chancellor Kurz visits Russia

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a press conference at the State Hermitage Museum in St.Petersburg, Russia, 03 October 2018. [EPA-EFE/ANATOLY MALTSEV]

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz paid a visit to Russia on Wednesday (3 October), where, in his own words, he wants to act once again as a bridge builder, in coordination with Brussels. EURACTIV Germany reports from Vienna.

The official opening of an exhibition at the Saint Petersburg Hermitage, previously shown at the Vienna Kunsthistorisches Museum, provided a welcome opportunity for Austrian EU Council President Sebastian Kurz and Russian President Vladimir Putin to reunite for a discussion on current political matters.

“Especially with neighbours with whom there are tensions, there is a need for a good dialogue.” With these words, Kurz justified his fourth meeting in a row with Putin this year on Wednesday evening. After all, “Russia is one of the largest countries in the world and a superpower.”

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Kurz, as it was explicitly emphasised by his cabinet, travelled to Russia as the holder of the EU Council Presidency, acting in coordination with the EU leaders, notably Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and Council President Donald Tusk.

The topics of discussion included the conflict in Syria and the importance of a political solution under UN auspices. Once again, however, it was also about the EU sanctions against Russia and the conflict between Kyiv and Moscow.

Both in relation to Eastern Ukraine and the Crimea, Kurz particularly emphasised that he was fully representing the line of the EU.

Ending the conflict in Ukraine

After the Austrian opposition criticised his strikingly intense shuttle diplomacy, the Austrian Chancellor had to clear up his position.

According to him, it was necessary that one responds to the “Russian aggression with determination.” After all, Moscow is involved in the armed conflict in Syria and had carried out an “illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula” and “this conflict must therefore be finally ended.”

Kurz informed Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker about the exact content of his conversation with Putin when Juncker visited Vienna on Thursday.

Kurz’s press spokesman told EURACTIV that it was important for the Austrian Chancellor to maintain close contact both with Ukraine – such as the meetings in Kyiv in early September with President Poroshenko, Foreign Minister Klimkin and Kyiv mayor Klitschko – and with Russia.

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His main concern was to keep dialogue channels with Russia open and to insist on the importance of implementing the Minsk peace agreement and helping people on the ground.

The Austrian Council of Ministers has therefore provided one million euros from the Foreign Disaster Fund for assistance to the suffering civilian population in eastern Ukraine.

Of course, the cultural event was also used to deepen economic cooperation between Gazprom and the Austrian oil company OMV.

On this occasion, Kurz suggested that all European partners involved in Nord Stream-2 pipeline project would stand behind the project, which will transport Russian crude oil to Europe via the Baltic Sea.

The partners are Engie, OMV, Shell, Uniper and Wintershall.

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