Austrian Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Karin Kneissl will be in Russia on a working visit between April 19 and 20 at the invitation of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. On April 20, Karin Kneissl will hold talks with Sergey Lavrov. It will be their first meeting after Karin Kneissl was appointed Austria’s foreign minister in December 2017.
The ministers will discuss practical aspects of bilateral cooperation as well as current international topics of mutual concern.
Despite the complicated situation, Russian-Austrian relations continue to develop positively and can be described as a mature trust-based partnership that is immune to changes in the political climate. There are no serious problems between Russia and Austria. Their parliaments and ministries maintain an active dialogue, and their regions are developing cooperation.
The key event in bilateral relations this year was a meeting between President of Russia Vladimir Putin and Federal Chancellor of Austria Sebastian Kurz on February 28. That working visit to Russia was the chancellor’s first trip to a non-EU country after he assumed office.
Sergey Lavrov and Karin Kneissl will highlight trade and economic cooperation. Although Austria has expressed solidarity with the EU policy on Ukraine, it is one of those countries that are against increasing the sanctions pressure on Russia. All of the country’s political forces, public figures and the overwhelming majority of business people share this view. Austrian companies do not intend to cut down their business in Russia and make no secret of their interest for the continued localisation of production in Russia.
The pace of bilateral economic dialogue depends on the relevant forms of interaction such as the Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation (its regular meeting is scheduled to be held in Moscow on May 14) and its industry-specific working groups, as well as the Russian-Austrian Business Council, which will convene in Vienna on June 5 and 6.
Both Russia and Austria worked to overcome a recent negative trend in trade. As a result, their trade increased by 4.5 per cent in 2017 year on year and reached $4.1 billion. Russian exports to Austria soared by 78.9 per cent to $1.9 billion, and imports from Austria increased by 18.5 per cent and reached $2.2 billion. Their investment cooperation is on the rise. Russia’s cumulative investment in Austria amounted to $22.9 billion as of mid-2017, and Austria’s cumulative investment in Russia reached $4.7 billion.
In light of the 50th anniversary of Soviet gas deliveries to Austria, which will be marked this year, the ministers will discuss the possibility of building up the bilateral energy dialogue. The first long-term contract for Soviet natural gas was signed on June 1, 1968, and the deliveries began on September 10, 1968. Over the past 50 years, Austria has received over 200 billion cubic metres of Russian gas, including 9.1 billion cubic metres in 2017. Their time-tested partnership is ongoing within the framework of the agreement signed between Russia’s Gazprom and Austria’s OMV on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the asset swap contract regarding the Urengoyskoye oil, gas and condensate field, as well as the agreement on the joint production of natural gas at the Yuzhno-Russkoye field. The Vienna government has consistently upheld the construction of Nord Stream 2 as a project that is vital for reliable natural gas supplies to Europe.
The ministers plan to discuss the implementation of the action plan of the 2011 EU-Russia Partnership for Modernisation (26 positions worth totally EUR 4 billion), in the framework of which the parties are implementing pilot projects in energy, transportation, aircraft manufacturing and mechanical engineering, infrastructure and science-intensive areas. In this context, the Austrian government is promoting the extension of the broad-gauge railway line from the city of Kosice in Slovakia to Vienna, which includes the possibility of building a large transportation and logistics hub on the Danube through the joint efforts of Russia, Austria, Slovakia and Ukraine.
The interregional component of Russian-Austrian economic cooperation has great potential. The presentation of Russian regions in Austria and the Austrian business missions to Russia have become regular. In 2017, the sides signed agreements to boost the multifaceted cooperation between the Krasnoyarsk Territory and the federal state of Carinthia, between Karachayevo-Circassia and Tyrol, and between the Chelyabinsk Region and Styria. Interregional ties are promoted by a network of Russian honorary consulates in Austria. One more such consulate opened in the federal state of Vorarlberg in January 2018.
Cultural and humanitarian ties have always been very strong between Russia and Austria. They are implementing a programme of cooperation and exchanges in culture, education and science for 2016−2020. The Year of Music and Cultural Routes 2018 is gathering momentum. The Russian-Austrian Tourism Year held in 2017 was an unquestionable success: after several years of decline on the bilateral tourism market, the scale and geographical range of mutual travel has increased substantially. In 2017, the number of Austrian tourists in Russia increased by 11 per cent and reached 54,000, while the number of Russian tourists in Austria soared by 36 per cent and reached 249,000. The sides are considering new large-scale cultural projects, such as the Russian-Austrian Year of Youth Exchanges in 2019 and the Year of Literature and Theatre in 2020.
History occupies a major place in bilateral relations. In 2018, the Joint Russian-Austrian Commission of Historians plans to hold a number of events to mark historical dates, such as the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and the establishment of the First Austrian Republic, the 80th anniversary of the Anschluss (the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany) and several other dates.
In addition to discussing topics concerning the bilateral agenda, the ministers plan to exchange opinions on international affairs, including the situation in Syria and Ukraine, the fight against international terrorism and Russia-EU relations.