Austrian Parliament President Wolfgang Sobotka said: Austria would support western sanctions against Russia if the country invades Ukraine, even if they encompass the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in the Baltic Sea,
“A clear position is needed here — and we certainly support sanctions up to and including Nord Stream. Also, of course, gas,” Sobotka told POLITICO during a visit to the German capital.
Austria has faced criticism behind the scenes in Europe in recent days after Chancellor Karl Nehammer and his foreign minister signaled Vienna did not support linking Russia’s actions in Ukraine with sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. “Seeing a pipeline as a threat in itself is rather inappropriate, especially where the security of Europe’s gas supply is concerned,”.
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 linking Nord Stream 2 with sanctions, stressing Europe’s dependence on Russian gas.
He said “We’re not going to be able to change that overnight if we want heat and power,”
Though Schallenberg said a Russian invasion of Ukraine would trigger economic sanctions, it is not clear what impact such measures would have if Russia’s lucrative gas sector was spared.
Yet the remarks by Sobotka, who like Nehammer and Schallenberg is a member of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP), suggest that Austria would ultimately bow to the will of its European allies if push comes to shove. He noted that Austria was well prepared to deal with any supply disruptions.
“First of all, we have enough gas in storage … it may well be that there are bottlenecks here and there in industry, but you can’t weigh production goods against human rights violations and, above all, international law,” he said.
Fears surrounding Europe’s gas supply have been growing in recent weeks against the backdrop of the deteriorating situation on the border between Russia and Ukraine, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has deployed more than 100,000 troops in what many fear is a prelude to a full-scale invasion.
Like Germany, Austria has deep energy and other commercial ties to Russia. Unlike its larger northern neighbor, 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 Germany’s government is currently facing over its refusal to send arms to Ukraine.
In fact, Austria is quite open about playing both sides of the field. Sobotka said his country has “a large number of companies that are connected with Russia and Ukraine … and a major economic interest in ensuring that these good connections can be maintained.”
But he added that Austrian neutrality was to be understood militarily, not politically. “There is no political neutrality for us, that must be stated clearly,” he said. “At the end of the day, we agreed on this with the victorious powers of the Second World War — and that was not only Russia, but also the U.S., the U.K., and France.”