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Russia’s best friend in Europe

The hills are alive… with a little help from Moscow

It apparently didn’t occur to the Austrian chamber of commerce that the “cosy networking event” it scheduled in Moscow at the start of this year might “raise eyebrows”, says Matthew Karnitschnig in Politico. The retreat – offering businessmen cross-country skiing excursions followed by drinks receptions to schmooze Russian investors – was only nixed when a journalist started sniffing around. It’s just one example of the Alpine country’s “ambivalent approach” to Vladimir Putin’s aggression. Shortly after the 2014 invasion of Crimea, as the rest of the world was slapping sanctions on Russia, Putin went on a state visit to Austria. When reminded that part of Ukraine had been ruled by Vienna 100 years previously, Putin joked: “What suggestions do you have?” The remark was met with laughter and a pat on the back by Austria’s then president.

Even after Russia’s “full-scale assault” on Ukraine, its relationship with Austria has survived “largely unscathed”. Russia remains the second-largest investor in the country after Germany, accounting for 13% of its foreign direct investment. The largest Austrian energy firm, OMV, has stood by its 2018 deal to purchase at least six billion cubic metres of Russian gas per year until 2040. And while the rest of Europe has slashed its dependence on Russian gas to just 19% of supply, Vienna continues to buy around 60% of its own from Moscow. However much their European neighbours argue for a hard line against Russia, Austria’s politicians find their policy of gemütlichkeit – cordiality – “so much easier”.