Austria Under Pressure and in line of fire for granting visas to sanctioned Russian lawmakers to attend a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna. This move highlights the difficult balancing act the country faces while trying to maintain its position of military neutrality amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.
Austria has been a long-standing neutral country since 1955 and is also a host to several U.N. agencies and international organizations such as the OSCE. Russia is one of the 57 nations that participate in the organization, based in Vienna. Moscow intends to send 15 lawmakers, who are under European Union sanctions, to the meeting on February 23rd and 24th.
81 delegates from 20 countries, including France, Canada, Britain, Poland, and Ukraine, have written a letter to Austria’s chancellor, foreign minister, and other officials calling for the prohibited participation of the sanctioned Russians. The letter states that the Russian parliamentarians are part of the power system complicit in the crimes committed in Ukraine and have no place in the OSCE.
The U.S. Ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, has also expressed his views, saying that the Russian delegates “are not people who deserve to be able to travel to Western countries.” However, he added that the final decision rests with the Austrian government.
Austria’s foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, has defended the country’s decision to allow the Russians to enter, citing the importance of keeping communication channels with Moscow open. Austria is legally obliged to grant visas to representatives of participating nations who want to take part in meetings at the OSCE headquarters in Vienna.
Despite the criticism, support for Austrian neutrality remains strong among the public and political establishment. Ralph Janik, an expert in international law and researcher at Sigmund Freud private university in Vienna, believes that Austrian neutrality can still play a positive role. The alternative would be to join NATO, but the majority of the Austrian public is against it.
Austria has a long history of being neutral and has developed ties with Moscow during and after the Cold War. The country is also closely connected to Russia through its banking system and natural gas imports. Vienna is known to be a playground for spies, including from Russia, due to its lenient espionage laws. Although Austria has expelled eight Russian diplomats believed to be involved in spying, some have called for a reassessment of its policy following the war in Ukraine.
Austria Under Pressure and criticism for its decision to grant visas to sanctioned Russian lawmakers to attend the OSCE meeting. The country is trying to balance its neutrality while maintaining diplomatic relations with Moscow, and support for its neutral stance remains strong.