Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz attended the Economic Forum in St. Petersburg as the only EU leader amid increasing tensions between Russia and the EU. Kurz defended EU sanctions against Belarus but refrained from direct criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The St. Petersburg International Forum, which markets itself as the Russian version of Davos, aimed at assessing areas of collaboration during times of severe tension.
“Despite fundamental differences in regard to human rights, it is important to work together internationally in order to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the global economic crisis,” Kurz said.
However, the Forum was not void of controversy.
A moderator of Russian state television pressed Kurz on EU sanctions on Belarus and tried to delegitimise detained Belarusian journalist Roman Protasevich by alleging without presenting evidence that he fought in the “Azov Battalion” in Eastern Ukraine with a “swastika” on his arm.
“He is not a terrorist, but a blogger and a journalist,” Kurz responded, and reiterated the importance of the freedom of expression.
The Austrian chancellor also defended the EU’s decision to impose sanctions on Belarus, noting that forcing a passenger plane to land, and imprisoning people and torturing them into making false confessions is not normal behaviour for a state. (Oliver Noyan | EURACTIV.de)