Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz: Economic sanctions against Russia can be lifted at any time
OSCE Chairperson-in-Office, Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz has given an interview to Interfax in which he speaks about his vision of the Ukrainian settlement and the role of the SMM OSCE in it, about conditions under which EU sanctions against Russia can be lifted at any time and tells about what he values in his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.Question: Mr. Kurz, this year Austria presides in the OSCE. Earlier Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Alexei Meshkov said that you and your Russian counterpart Mr. Lavrov will discuss the bolstering of the activity of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in Donbas. Do you agree that the mission‘s activity should be bolstered, not modified, and on how it can be done?
Answer: The SMM is a vital part in the overall OSCE engagement as regards the crisis in and around Ukraine. In our view there is no need to modify the broad mandate of SMM. But what all actors have to do is to facilitate its full implementation. This particularly concerns the safety - both the personal safety and the safety of the equipment - of our monitors. And it concerns their freedom of movement throughout the whole territory of Ukraine.
Q.: In general do you expect the promotion of the Ukrainian settlement in 2017? To what extent can the current Kyiv authorities be negotiated with? Recently the number of statements from European leaders who earlier explicitly supported Kyiv‘s actions has decreased. Do you think that the change of administration in the United States will assist the settlement? Do you think that the Ukrainian conflict may go the same way as other frozen conflicts in the CIS space?
A.: To improve the everyday life of the local population, the OSCE actively participates in the Trilateral Contact Group and supports the ‘Normandy‘ format to eventually realize substantial progress in implementing the Minsk agreements. Ceasefire violations must stop, Minsk-proscribed weapons must be withdrawn, disengagement of forces must be stepped up, more crossing points must be opened and full humanitarian access must be guaranteed - regardless of respective governments in Kyiv, Moscow or Washington.
Q.: Recently the outgoing U.S. administration of Barack Obama has been taking explicitly anti-Russian steps, in particular introducing more and more sanctions. Now the EU is not following the U.S. example. Do you think that the EU is waiting for Donald Trump to officially take office as U.S. president or that the EU is going to pursue a more independent foreign policy towards Russia? Can one hope that the EU will lift some sanctions from Russia this year?
A.: Bilateral sanctions are not an issue for the OSCE chairperson-in-office to comment on. With regard to the future of U.S.-Russian relations, I hope that both states will commit themselves to improving and reestablishing a positive and productive relationship on a bilateral as well as multilateral level - including the OSCE.
EU-Russia relations have always been complex and challenging. But with the illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia‘s critical role in Eastern Ukraine, they entered a new and particularly difficult phase in 2014. The EU - like other countries - imposed restrictive measures against Russia to which Russia retaliated with counter-sanctions. As Austrian foreign minister I can confirm that, if the conditions are fulfilled, these measures in the economic sector can be lifted at any time by a unanimous decision of the 28 EU Member States.
Q.: What is the current situation with the problem of Syrian refugees in Austria? Does one manage to stop the uncontrolled flow? Do you think that the German leadership that launched active migration processes is responsible for the situation? This problem is known to be your ‘strong point‘. What will you change in the EU approach to this problem, as among refugees there might be terrorists? Some time ago radical measures to counter illegal migration, such as destroying boats in the Mediterranean Sea and others, were proposed.
A.: Several OSCE participating states were affected by the migration crisis in the last two years, particularly my own. I am convinced that the OSCE, following its comprehensive approach to security, is an appropriate format to exchange experiences and best practices between various states - especially as current numbers show that the crisis is far from solved. Regardless of refugees‘ origin, we must not leave the decision on who enters Europe to human smugglers or traffickers. We have to provide for an effective protection of our external borders and make irregular migration less attractive. At the same time we should offer legal pathways for those in need of protection through resettlement programs.
I do not believe that one can equate migration with terrorism or vice versa. Of course, there are certain links between the two, but the strongest links exist with radicalization and no society is immune to radicalization. Radical extremists are not only a threat in areas of conflict, but also in the heart of our societies. The negative influence of extremists has grown in particular on young people and not only in the OSCE area. Consequently, security and stability can only be safeguarded by common multilateral efforts. This is why I will focus on this issue throughout Austria‘s 2017 OSCE chairmanship.
Q.: You are the youngest foreign minister in the world. What are your political ambitions? There is an impression that you get along well with Foreign Minister Lavrov. What do like most of all about him? What expectations do you have about contacts with new U.S. secretary of state, a position Rex Tillerson is likely to hold?
A.: To formulate the necessary responses to today‘s challenges and threats, international cooperation is indispensable. In this endeavor, foreign ministers such as Sergey Lavrov play a key role due to their experience and their foresightedness. I appreciate our regular contacts, fruitful exchanges and constructive cooperation. Should Rex Tillerson be confirmed as next secretary of state, I would be happy to meet him soon and to discuss the future orientation of U.S. politics with regard to comprehensive and cooperative security in Europe. As minister for foreign affairs, Europe and integration, as well as chairperson-in-office of the OSCE, I have very fulfilling tasks which keep me busy enough.