Ambassador to the Republic of Austria Dmitry Lyublinsky’s interview with the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency December 26, 2019
Question: Has the political crisis in Austria affected its relations with Russia? What does Russia expect from the new Austrian Government?
Dmitry Lyublinsky: It was a difficult year in Austria, but the political upheavals have not affected Russian-Austrian relations. We continue working as planned, implementing the agreements reached between our leaders and those made with the previous Austrian government. We are working to implement joint projects in the economy, energy and infrastructure, as well as in the fields of culture, history and memorial sites, plus we are strengthening public ties and interregional cooperation. We have a packed agenda with our Austrian partners, and we proceed from the assumption that the new Austrian government will continue to implement it regardless of their political affiliations.
The key political event [in Russian-Austrian relations] last year was a meeting between Vladimir Putin and President of Austria Alexander Van der Bellen held in Sochi. It is notable that the summit was held on May 15, the very day in 1955 when the four victorious powers in WWII signed the fundamental state treaty between them and the Austrian side to reinstate an independent and democratic Austria. That treaty played a vital part in the post-war development of Austrian statehood.
Austria has always been a major economic partner of Russia in Europe. Our business ties are based on the same principles as our bilateral relations as a whole, that is, a pragmatic and constructive approach plus mutual interest and respect. We have been working systemically within the framework of the Joint Commission on Trade and Economic Cooperation and its working groups. The Russian-Austrian Business Council, which was convened in Moscow in October 2019, was attended by delegates from over 200 Russian and Austrian companies.
Unwilling to cede their positions on the Russian market because of the growing obstacles created by the flawed sanctions, Austrian business people are looking for new forms of interaction. Ever more Austrian companies are investing in the Russian economy and localising production there, planning, in part, to use this as an additional opportunity to expand into the markets of other, including adjacent countries. The examples from last year include a factory to produce and assemble components for hydropower plant turbines, which Voith subsidiary VolgaHydro opened in Balakovo, Saratov Region, and the Doka Lipetsk plant for the production of formwork systems, which Doka GmbH opened in the Lipetsk special economic zone. Several other interesting Austrian projects have been launched in Russia as well.
Question: Russian-Austrian trade increased to a record high in 2018. What was the situation in 2019?
Dmitry Lyublinsky: Our trade continued to grow despite the sanctions, which should be eased, according to the overwhelming majority of Austrian business people. According to Russian data, bilateral trade was indeed record high in 2018 at $5.8 billion. In January to October 2019, it was more than $5 billion, or 6.6 percent higher than in the same period of 2018. Russia holds 13th place on the list of Austria’s largest trade partners.
Question: Russian regions regularly showcase their investment potential in Vienna. Have Austrian investments in Russia increased and by how much?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: In March, the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber, our usual partner for events of this kind, hosted the first ever Day of Russian Regions. It was attended by 14 constituent entities of the Russian Federation, three of which were represented by their heads. Strong delegations from Bashkortostan, the Irkutsk Region and the Government of Moscow held their presentations during the year. The Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) and the Novgorod, Tambov and Ulyanovsk regions were also highly active in Austria. At the invitation of their Austrian partners, representatives of Russian regions took part, also for the first time, in the Conference of European Regions and Cities in Salzburg. The fact that many Russian regions are still highly attractive for Austrian business is confirmed by statistics on Austrian investment in Russia: it amounted to $6.4 billion at the end of the first six months in 2019, as compared to $5.6 billion at the end of 2018.
The Russian presence in Austria is also expanding. On October 22, for example, Metadynea, part of the Metafrax Group from the Perm Territory in Russia, opened a new production line in Krems, Lower Austria, in the presence of Lower Austria Governor Johanna Mikl-Leitner. Many major Russian companies, such as Gazprom, Sibur, Lukoil, Sberbank, and others have also operated successfully in Austria for quite a long time. As of July 1, 2019, Russian investments in the Austrian economy amounted to $26.69 billion.
Question: The United States has introduced sanctions against Nord Stream 2 and urged the companies involved in the project to withdraw at short notice. How is this regarded in Austria and specifically by its OMV oil and gas company? What are they going to do?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: It is not quite proper for me as the Russian Ambassador to Austria to offer any public assessments of Austria’s relations with third countries. But, speaking of the overt and unscrupulous pressure that Washington is bringing to bear on many EU countries, I would like to say that nothing will pass unnoticed. The Americans are trying to directly and aggressively dictate to the Europeans whatever they want. And what they desire, primarily in the energy sphere, is to stop the construction of Nord Stream 2 and force Western Europe to buy their expensive shale gas. Berlin, Vienna and many other European capitals cannot but feel frustrated by this behaviour. And this is only natural. Our partners in Austria, including, of course, the business community, are pragmatic and well aware of their interests and benefits. Austria stands to benefit from Nord Stream 2. The Austrian Government has repeatedly backed the project in public and hopes that the construction will be finalised in accordance with the existing contract.
Question: Are Austrian and Russian authorities planning any meetings soon? Where and when will they be held? Are there any visits in the making?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: Russian and Austrian government agencies, including the current interim government of Austria headed by Chancellor Brigitte Bierlein, have maintained dialogue on a regular basis. In December, for example, the two countries’ patent and antimonopoly agencies held working meetings. I am confident that full-scale interagency and government contacts will continue after a new cabinet is formed in Vienna.
Let me add that 2020 will be marked by celebrations in honour of the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. We are planning a programme of events for the upcoming anniversary of the liberation of Vienna and Austria from Nazism.
Question: Could we have some details?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: The events to be held on April 13, the 75th anniversary of Vienna’s liberation, will have a somewhat political tone. We are planning traditional wreath-laying ceremonies on Schwarzenbergplatz, where our main monument to the Soviet Liberator Soldier is located, as well as at Vienna’s Central Cemetery, where there are plans to unveil plaques containing names. I am not certain yet, but we count on the arrival of guests from Moscow with long-standing partner ties with Vienna. The event is being prepared in close coordination with the Moscow government. We are very happy that the Vienna authorities have come up with an initiative to organise a return presentation of Vienna in Moscow. The preliminary date for it is the end of May.
Question: What other events are planned for the 75th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: As concerns the anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War on May 9 when Moscow will host the main festivities involving official guests, including from Austria, a whole programme of events is being planned in Vienna to mark the occasion. It will be the third time that there will be a concert given by the Turetsky Choir on Schwarzenbergplatz. On that square on May 8 the Immortal Regiment campaign will be taking place plus another event on the same day, the Festival of Joy. This will be held on Heldenplatz close by to the Hofburg Palace where our Austrian friends celebrate this memorable day every year. On May 10 there will be the traditional commemorative events at the Mauthausen Memorial.
I would like to point out one more thing. By resolution of Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the school at the Russian Embassy in Austria has been named after General Dmitry Karbyshev. On February 18, the day when we remember Dmitry Karbyshev, we will unveil a memorial plaque at the school with its new name. We are expecting Dmitry Karbyshev’s grandson and great-grandson as well as our Austrian partners to attend the ceremony – in particular, Barbara Glueck, director of the memorial complex at the Maunthausen concentration camp where the general heroically died.
Question: You earlier reported that the embassy intends to arrange a translation of a German book about Soviet prisoners of war into Russian. Has this job started yet and who will be put in charge of the translation?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: Yes, the work is already in progress. I cannot give you a specific date for now when the Russian translation of the book will be presented but the book launch is included in the anniversary year programme. I think it will be a collective production but, as with several other initiatives, we will ask the Russian Coordinating Committee of the Sochi Dialogue bilateral public forum to coordinate the project.
Question: By the way, has any progress been made on the Sochi Dialogue civil society forum? Is it safe to say it has qualitatively changed cooperation between our two countries? What future events will be held as part of the Sochi Dialogue?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: The constituent meeting of the Sochi Dialogue took place this year in Sochi and was attended by the presidents of Russia and Austria. The second meeting, according to the plan and invitation from the Austrian partners, is to be held in Salzburg in 2020. This public forum, co-chaired by Presidential Aide Andrei Fursenko from Russia, and by President of Eurochambres Christoph Leitl from Austria, brings together iconic figures from the spheres of politics, the economy, culture and the arts from our two countries. The discussion has already got underway: several thematic roundtables and working meetings have taken place on the sidelines of the St Petersburg Economic Forum, the 15th European Conference of Regions and Cities in Salzburg, and the International Cultural Forum in St Petersburg.
A new conference has been held in an unconventional format – Trialogue of Dialogues: St Petersburg (Russia-Germany), Sochi (Russia-Austria), and Trianon (Russia-France). Its thematic scope is very wide, however, I would like to note that there are two main themes – youth and regional issues, which are threaded through all the projects being discussed and prepared.
The Sochi Dialogue is the most important platform for effective development of diverse Russian-Austrian contacts, primarily between civil societies. Last year, we laid a solid foundation for this, and I am quite certain that the forum has a great future and will open up additional opportunities for direct and mostly informal communication between representatives of culture, education, science, sports and other fields that are important for relations between our countries. It also enjoys the support of the business community, which is showing a keen interest in the civil society forum potential.
Question: The Russian-Austrian Year of Youth Exchanges is coming to a close; the next has already been declared the Year of Literature and Theatre. How is this ongoing practice of holding cross years helping develop bilateral relations?
Dmitry Lyubinsky: The Year of Literature and Theatre will be the fourth consecutive Russian-Austrian cross-year project. This practice has worked out very well. From year to year, we have been holding an increasing number of largely innovative activities. For example, in early October 2019, a Russian-Austrian youth creative platform was held in Vienna. This new format of relations involved young specialists and students from creative universities in Russia and Austria. It gave them an excellent opportunity to discuss various topics related to culture and the arts, establish a direct dialogue, exchange experiences, and make new friends. In September, an Austrian delegation took part in several youth programmes in three cities, Moscow, St Petersburg and Ulyanovsk. All the events held as part of cross-year projects logically follow up and complement each other, working to bring the citizens of our countries ever closer, to develop the so-called public diplomacy, and help us to get to know one another better. And this is extremely important for strengthening the positive vector of bilateral relations. With the Russian-Austrian Year of Youth being such a success, we can be confident that such projects definitely have a future.