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22 May, 2023 15:12

EU state reveals ongoing contact with Russia

The West has “a global responsibility” to talk to Moscow, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg says
EU state reveals ongoing contact with Russia

Austria has maintained informal contact with Russia since the conflict in Ukraine began, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said on Monday. While Vienna has backed the EU’s sanctions regime thus far, the diplomat insisted that the bloc cannot cut off its “largest geopolitical neighbor.”

In an interview with Die Welt, Schallenberg was asked whether Vienna maintains “informal channels of communication with the Russian government.” The official replied “yes,” adding that “the US administration is doing the same.”

“We have a global responsibility,” he explained. “Russia has not disappeared from the map. Russia is the EU’s largest geographical neighbor and the largest nuclear power on this planet.”

Schallenberg said that he believes the West should not push Kiev to seek a ceasefire, and that Russian officials should be prosecuted for “war crimes and the crime of aggression.” However, he added that “the West must continue to speak to Russia and should use international forums… to make our positions blunt in face-to-face exchanges.”

Austria is constitutionally neutral and does not supply Ukraine with arms or train its soldiers. Vienna initially opposed sanctions on Russian oil and gas, with Finance Minister Magnus Brunner arguing last year that embargoes would “hit us more than the Russians.”

Austria’s center-right government has since backed ten successive EU sanctions packages, although Schallenberg has repeatedly warned the bloc against sabotaging its future relations with Russia through excessively punitive measures – such as a visa ban for Russian citizens pushed by Poland and the Baltic states.

Schallenberg has also defended Austria’s Raiffeisen Bank for continuing to operate in Russia. “Let’s get real,” he told Reuters in March. “91% of Western companies are still in Russia. To think that there won’t be Russia anymore and we can decouple in all areas is delusional.”