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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Courts an Unwavering Austria

Itar-TassAustrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik welcoming Putin and his wife, Lyudmila, at the Vienna airport Wednesday.
VIENNA -- President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday praised Austria as a model partner for energy exports but failed to gain support for Moscow in its tussles with the European Union.

Less than a week after a Russia-EU summit ended in disagreement over Russian democracy and its touchy relations with Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, Austrian President Heinz Fischer told Putin that Austria would not differ from the EU line.

"We support the positions and resolutions of the European Union, and there are some issues where the EU and Russia have a need for discussion," Fischer said. "We are not a country that is veering out of the European solidarity."

Putin arrived in Vienna on Wednesday for talks with Fischer and Austrian Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, mainly focused on the two countries' thriving trade and mutual investments and on Austria's decades-old role as a gateway for Russian gas.

"Austria is the biggest and, I stress this, the most reliable transit agent for Russian gas," Putin said at a news conference with Fischer.

"Around one-third of Russian gas goes through Austrian territory. This is our contribution to European energy security," Putin said.

Austria also leads the Nabucco pipeline project intended to bypass Russia and create alternative gas supply routes, but Vienna played down the pipeline rivalry ahead of the visit.

While Fischer agreed that both sides were pleased with the countries' business ties and bilateral relations, he also stuck to European Union positions on controversial issues with Russia such as the future of the Serbian breakaway province of Kosovo.

United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari has said independence is "the only viable option" for Kosovo. Serbia and Russia reject this.

"Austria believes that the Ahtisaari plan is balanced and we support this project. There are still different opinions [with Russia] about this," Fischer said.

Putin criticized plans for a U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, calling it counterproductive. "What is happening in Europe that is so negative that one has to arm Eastern Europe with these new weapons?" Putin said.

Putin also said he and Fischer had talked about Friday's summit outside Samara.

"I don't think we have particular problems with the EU," Putin said, adding that Russia has always had difficulties with its immediate neighbors and that the Soviet past was to blame. He said Austria could play a positive role as mediator.

Putin, who arrived in Vienna in the early afternoon for an overnight state visit, addressed reporters in Vienna's Hofburg Palace. After he was welcomed with military honors, he and members of his delegation met behind closed doors with Fischer and a group of Austrian ministers, including Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik and Economics and Trade Minister Martin Bartenstein.

Shortly before Putin's arrival, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov addressed the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe behind closed doors.

A Western diplomat present during the speech said Lavrov mentioned, among other things, that Russia's stance on the missile defense system was getting a lot of support privately from other nations, adding that expert analysis was needed to document the threat it would seek to counter.

Putin later watched a performance of Lipizzaners at an equestrian school in the palace and discussed prospects of mutual investment at a meeting with Austrian business leaders.

Bilateral trade rose 17 percent to 4.6 billion euros last year, and companies including bank Raiffeisen International, steelmaker Voestalpine, and brick maker Wienerberger have large Russian investments. On the other hand, tycoon Oleg Deripaska has agreed to buy a 30 percent stake in Austrian builder Strabag. "This has become a street that goes in both directions, not a one-way street," Putin said.

On Thursday, Putin will lay a wreath at a monument to Soviet soldiers who died liberating Vienna from Nazi troops in 1945. The ceremony at the site, carefully preserved by local authorities, is an important symbolic gesture for Putin.

"I cannot but express my deep gratitude to Austrian authorities and people for the careful treatment of our military graves," Putin said.

Earlier this month, Moscow lashed out at Estonia for removing a similar monument from the center of the capital, Tallinn, and blamed the EU for failing to react to what it described as "attempts to review history."


Leonhard Foeger / Reuters
Putin watching Lipizzaners perform Wednesday at Vienna's Hofburg Palace.
Protests directed at Putin in Vienna on Wednesday were limited to a small crowd demonstrating against the 12-year conflict against insurgents in Chechnya.

n Magna, a Canadian car parts producer, and AvtoVAZ signed a deal on Wednesday in Vienna to develop jointly a new model, AvtoVAZ said in a statement.

The car would be priced at $10,000 to $12,000 and will be produced by AvtoVAZ, Interfax reported.

Deripaska's GAZ and Austria's AVL List signed an agreement to cooperate in diesel engines, Itar-Tass reported. AVL List will help design YAMZ-530 engines for tractors, road-construction and agricultural machines and hybrid propulsion systems.

Reuters, AP