Austria still has strong economic ties to Russia - about which Austrians and Ukrainians in the country have divided opinions. Pictured: Valeriia Ventskovska at the Universität Wien campus/Parliament of Austria in Vienna. Photo: Agnes Fältman.

FUF-correspondents, Report

Austria's dependence on Russia divides public opinion

Få länder within the EU still has så strong financial relationships to Russia as Österrich. The country's imports of Russian gas and många företag's continued operations in Russia after the war of aggression against Ukraine divides opinion among ömore sterile as well that newänth Ukrainians. Some believe that gas imports partially finance the war in Ukraine, others believes that the humanitära hjälpen ÖAustria gives to the waräruled the land bör stå in focus.  

ÖAustria still has strong economic ties to Russia, unlikeån manynder within the EU and Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. lands imports still large quantities of Russian gas, despite sharp criticism fromåamong other things of the European Commission representative in Vienna.

Många Austrian companies and banks, for example Raiffeisen Bank, is still operating in Russia - and almost two-thirds of 65 Austrian companies operating in Russia surveyed by Kyiv School of Economics in January 2023 had no plans to leave the country. Since 2014, Russia is also it nahstfirst investor in Austria, after Germany.

The Russian Embassy in Vienna. Photo: Agnes Fältman.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion has Austria imported Russian gas för in total about sju billion euros, riding a considerably högre sum än it the country has spent på humanitarianärt beastånd to Ukraine. But at the same time as Austria imports from and maintains its economic ties to Russia, which partially funds the war of aggression, the country has stöttat Ukraine by wowWelcome more CHANGE 90 000 refugees so far, pcountsupport European sanctions against the Russian leadership and criticize Putin bear to violate international norms.

The fact that the country is neutral partly explains its actions, but how is it that Austria and Russia have such a strong economic relationship? We take it from the beginning.

The background to the Austrian instäLiability towards Russia går to be found in åpure after second väworld war. Just as Germany was divided ÖAustria into four parts, all of which were occupied by a different victorious power – the United States, Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union. This occupation lasted forr Austria's part until 1955, then the country in exchange for a constitutional föranked militiaär neutrality ågot his sjindependence. This meant a ban on the militiahonor alliancer, that oxäDutch troops were allowed to be stationed within the country and interventions in armed conflicts. Forwardear all läwith this exchange, Moscow was left alone.

The memorial to the Red Army soldiers who contributed to the liberation of Austria from the Nazis during the Second World War. Photo: Agnes Fältman.

Already in 1968 had Austria realized the advantages of its new status as a neutral country in the middle of Europe, gränsande to järideån. The country took full advantage of the position by trading with båthose pages during the Cold War, even though the Soviet Union gång on gång crushed againståthe end i neighboring countries Hungary and dåformer Czechoslovakia.

Austria was included as the first vEastern European countries 1968 in one låno agreement with the Soviet Union on the import of natural gas. The perception that neutrality was what rädded Austria fromån to fall victim tois it soviet fear pressure, as done by the country's neighbors to the east, was accepted by a large part of the population and vidhålls än today77 percent of those suppliedrode in a recent survey wanted to maintain the country's neutrality, versus only 17 percent who wanted to join NATO. Under åthe rtions that followed continued ÖAustria to trade with and import fromån Soviet and later Russia, which has built up the nära relations between läthe nds that to this day ehr tangible.

Ukrainian Valeriia Ventskovska is 19 years old and came to Austria from Kiev in March 2022. Coming to a new country was difficult for both her and her family.

- I spoke absolutely no German and only a little English. The war traumatized me deeply, and it took me a while to process everything that happened. But now it's easier, and I understand that Vienna gives me so many opportunities that I didn't have in Ukraine, even before the war.

The guitar is her biggest passion. She has already found a job as a teacher and is practicing for the entrance exam to Vienna's prestigious music college, Universitet für Musik und darstellende Kunst. Her mother has a friend in Vienna who helped them find accommodation shortly after the war broke out. Valeriia Ventskovska's whole family are musicians and they fled to Vienna a lot because of the opportunities for musicians in the city. She is very grateful for the help she and her family have received from the Austrian authorities with, for example, accommodation, language courses and administration. The fact that Austria has strong ties to Russia and, for example, continues to import Russian gas is not something that Valeriia Ventskovska thinks too much about.

- I know that many Russians also moved here to Austria, that they have big problems in their country because of the war, and I often talk about it with the Russians I know here. I don't see it as Austria directly contributing to the financing of the war, she says.

That Austria is still neutral and has not joined any military alliance as a result of the war, she has also not nåwelcome. For example, Sweden and Finland have done this, even though Sweden is still waiting for its formal entry into NATO.

- They help us Ukrainians a lot in other ways. As long as they do that, I don't think they need to choose a side militarily in the conflict.

A Russian soldier looks out over Vienna. Photo: Agnes Fältman.

The import of Russian gas has fluctuated since the start of the invasion, but has been kept at a relatively stable level in comparison with other European countries, for example Germany, which since January 2023 is completely independent of Russian energy. In September 2023, the Austrian government reported that the amount of imported natural gas has decreased, but of the gas it imports, the Russian share is still as high as 80 percent - the same proportion as before the war broke out.

Although the government in Vienna want to reduce Österrike's addiction of Russian gas, the transition is much slower than with its neighbors to the north — partly because of an infrastructure dependent on gas transport from the east, partly for political reasons.

Hannah, who does not want to give her last name, is surprised by the numbers. She believes that gas imports have not been discussed much in the public debate in recent months.

- The Austrian government said at the beginning of the war that it wanted to reduce its dependence on Russian energy and that it would take measures. I thought it was handled better — that 80 percent of gas imports are still from Russia is mildly shocking.

Hannah thinks this is an excellent opportunity to change the situation with the climate crisis. Photo: Agnes Fältman.

Hannah is 25 years old and studying for a master's degree. She comes from the western part of Austria which borders Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Germany.

- In the climate crisis we are in, this question becomes even more relevant — whether we should switch to other, more sustainable, forms of energy and how we can achieve it. This is an excellent opportunity, for several reasons, to change our situation.

Concerning gas imports äis she completely convinced that the, if än indirectly, finances the war, because it är a big one incomeälla for the Russian state. Regarding the Austrian companies and banks that still operate in Russia, she believes that the government should more sharply mark against their trade, stressing that the money may partly go to finance the war in Ukraine.

- The government had clear positions, but their actions have been inconsistent, says Hannah.

She also emphasizes that the military neutrality maintained by Austria does not prevent the country from expressing opinions or criticizing, but only prohibits armed intervention, membership of military alliances and foreign troops being stationed within the country.

- I believe that Austria should remain neutral, as in the course of history we made big mistakes when we followed other countries in their political and military ambitions. But of course we must continue to support Ukraine in the ways we can, within the framework of this neutrality.

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