BERLIN — Austria would support Western sanctions against Russia if the country invades Ukraine, even if they include the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea, Austrian parliament speaker Wolfgang Sobotka has said.
“A clear position is needed here – and we certainly support sanctions up to and including Nord Stream and, of course, gas,” Sobotka told POLITICO during a visit to the German capital.
Austria has faced behind-the-scenes criticism in Europe in recent days after Chancellor Karl Nehammer and his foreign minister signaled that Vienna did not support the link between Russia’s actions in Ukraine and sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. German media. Austria’s OMV, a partly state-owned oil and gas group, is a member of the consortium behind the Nord Stream 2 project.
In recent days, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg echoed Nehammer’s resistance to tying Nord Stream 2 to sanctions, underscoring Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
“We can’t change that overnight if we want heat and power,” he said. noted.
Although Schallenberg said a Russian invasion of Ukraine would trigger economic sanctions, it is unclear what impact such measures would have if Russia’s lucrative gas sector were spared.
Yet remarks by Sobotka, who like Nehammer and Schallenberg is a member of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), suggest that Austria will eventually bend to the will of its European allies if things go wrong. He noted that Austria was well prepared to deal with any supply disruptions.
“First of all, we have enough gas in storage… there may well be bottlenecks here and there in the industry, but you can’t compare production assets to breaches human rights and, above all, international law,” he said. noted.
Fears over Europe’s gas supply have grown in recent weeks amid the deteriorating situation on the Russia-Ukraine border, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has deployed more than 100,000 soldiers in what many fear is the prelude to a full-scale invasion. .
Like Germany, Austria has deep energy and trade ties with Russia. Unlike its big neighbor to the north, however, Austria is not a member of NATO and has been neutral since 1955, a status that allows it to avoid the kind of uncomfortable debates the German government currently faces over of its refusal to send arms to Ukraine.
In fact, Austria are quite open to playing on both sides of the pitch. Sobotka said his country has “a large number of businesses that are linked to Russia and Ukraine … and a major economic interest in ensuring that these good connections can be maintained.”
But he added that Austrian neutrality should be understood militarily, not politically. “There is no political neutrality for us, that needs to be said clearly,” he said. “In the end, we agreed on that with the victorious powers of the Second World War – and it was not only Russia, but also the United States, the United Kingdom and France. .”