4 May 2015

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz: Austria will never forget who liberated it from fascism

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has given an interview to Interfax‘ foreign political desk chief Olga Golovanova ahead of his first visit to Russia which starts on May 4 and takes place days before V-Day celebrations in Moscow.

Question Mr. Kurz, you are going to visit Moscow ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Great Patriotic War Victory. However, no one is coming from Austria to Moscow for the May 9 celebrations. Do not you think that many people may treat this decision as opportunistic and as a one that may insult the memory of those who liberated, in particular, Austria from fascism?

Answer Let me assure you: Austria will never forget the immense sacrifices of the Allied Powers and the important role of the Soviet Union in liberating Europe and my country from fascism. In honouring the victims Austrian Federal President Heinz Fischer will lay down a wreath at the graves of Soviet soldiers at Vienna’s Central Cemetery commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War on May 8th. And I will do so during my visit to Moscow at the grave of the Unknown Soldier.

Q.: What is your attitude to plans of Russia‘s Night Wolves biker club to run a motor rally dedicated to the V-Day? The route of the motor rally is expected to go through Austria. Will Austrian authorities allow the motor rally to pass through its territory?

A.: Anyone who has a valid Schengen visa and respects our laws can visit Austria.

Q.: Russia-Europe relations have chilled after the Ukrainian crisis. What is your assessment of the prospects to settle this crisis? In your opinion, is Kyiv doing everything possible to achieve this? Can you blame the EU, in particular those who promote the Eastern Partnership initiative, for what is happening in Ukraine now? Are not you afraid that similar scenarios may repeat themselves in Moldova and other post-Soviet countries? Moscow thinks that this policy is directed against Russia. What would you advise the organizers of the next Eastern Partnership summit in Riga on May 21-22 in this context?

A.: I am convinced that first and foremost we have to reach a common understanding that a stable, united and prosperous Ukraine is in the interest of both Europe and Russia. This can only be achieved by fully implementing the Minsk agreements.
The Eastern Partnership is not directed against Russia, but it is aimed at creating a zone of stability and prosperity in our neighbourhood. We do not want any new dividing lines in Europe, we have to avoid by all means the creation of two hostile blocks, but rather work on a common area of prosperity. That’s why I am advocating a pragmatic dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union with the ultimate goal of a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok.

Q.: Austria has one of largest Chechen communities in Europe. There were media reports that many Chechens living in Austria both who hold Austrian citizenship and enjoy refugee status, are fighting with the Ukrainian Army in eastern Ukraine. Can you confirm the reports? What measures have been taken to prevent this?
Are you going to discuss in Moscow the problem of Chechen community in Austria as a whole?

A.: The challenge of integration and of fighting radicalization in our societies is a global problem and both Austria and Russia are affected by it. We can only jointly tackle it by strengthening our legal frameworks as well as by increasing our educational efforts and outreach programmes.

Q.: What is you assessment in fiscal terms of the damage done to Austrian-Russia bilateral trade, economic and investment cooperation, including in the tourist sphere, over Western sanctions and Russian countersanctions?
Will Vienna advocate the lifting of EU sanctions from Russia? Is it possible before the year‘s end? Does Austria in general advocate the normalization of EU-Russia relations?

A.: In 2014 we definitely saw a decrease in our bilateral trade and Russian tourists visiting Austria, but that is not only due to sanctions.
Decisions regarding the lifting of EU sanctions and the normalization of EU-Russia relations are up to the European Council. In its conclusions of March 2015 it’s explicitly laid out that the duration of the restrictive measures is clearly linked to the complete implementation of the Minsk agreements and I call on all sides to work to this end in close cooperation with the OSCE Mission on the ground. Furthermore, the European Council does not recognize and continues to condemn the illegal annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol by the Russian Federation.

Q.: Austria is a neutral country and is not a member of any military organization. Does Vienna have plans of reconsidering its neutrality policy? Another neutral country, Finland, has been expressing readiness to tighter cooperation with NATO since the start of the Ukrainian crisis. Do you see such a need for Austria and do you see threat, coming from Russia?
Do you share Moscow‘s position, calling for an internationally set neutral status for Ukraine?

A.: We have no intention to change our current status of neutrality. It is the sovereign decision of any country, including Ukraine, to choose its security status.

Q.: Is Vienna interested in Turkish Stream gas coming to Baumgarten? Are Austrian companies ready to work on this task in this direction? Is there a risk that the new European Commission‘s inquiry in relation to Gazprom and its further development will raise the degree of rhetoric in EU-Russia relations on both the political and economic tracks even more and may push both sides to new destructive actions?

A.: Baumgarten is the only liquid gas hub in Central Europe. It would, therefore, be a key element in any project comparable to South Stream. Strengthening this position is naturally in the interests of Austria and, I believe, also of our neighbouring countries and the relevant Austrian companies. The same applies for the European Commission. However, Austria has left no doubt that any European infrastructure project must be in conformity with European law, in particular the provisions of the Third Energy Package.