An Austrian diplomat has added to fears surrounding the possibility of military escalation by Russia after commenting if the West got directly involved in the conflict, there would be nuclear war. The diplomat added Vladimir Putin was on the verge of destroying the European “dream” in his efforts to change borders by armed force. Her comments come as Austria, previously erring on the side of neutrality in the war, ramps up its condemnation of Russia and follows other former Soviet allies in forming closer relationships with the EU. The Austrian ambassador to Mexico, Elisabeth Kehrer, said while the EU’s reaction has been “very strong and united so far”, it cannot extend to direct involvement in the war.
Speaking at an event at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, she said: “We don’t want to get directly involved, because that would mean World War 3; if we or our allies, such as the United States or Canada, were to get involved in this conflict there could be a nuclear conflict.”
The diplomat added that the invasion of Ukraine was a major priority for the EU. While she admitted that the attack was prompting inflation and gas shortages across the West, an adequate response is “vital, and that is why we insist on it”. Putin’s invasion is so important to Europe partly because it has redefined the security structure of the continent, Ms Kehrer added.
She said: “For centuries we engaged in wars for territorial conquest; that is why the security system in Europe has the objective of not changing borders by armed force.” However, she said that Putin’s invasion “means that this dream is destroyed”.
Austria has joined other European countries in attempting to reach a diplomatic solution to the situation. In April, Austrian government leader Karl Nehammer visited Moscow, and later spoke to Putin over the phone in may.
France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Olaf Scholz have also attempted to reach an understanding with the tyrant, but so far their efforts have fallen on deaf ears. Indeed, Putin humiliated Macron at the start of the war when he promised the French president he would not invade Ukraine – the day before he moved his troops across the border.
Ms Kehrer also ramped up Austria’s criticism of Russia, adding to the country’s gradually strengthening stance against the war. While the country has previously sought to portray itself as neutral in the conflict, the diplomat emphasised the differences between Europe and Russia’s approaches to sanctions.
She pointed out that while European sanctions against the Kremlin have been severe, they have not included food, humanitarian goods or medicines. Meanwhile, Russia, she argued, has used food and energy as “weapons” in the war.
Captain of the Ukrainian Armed Forces and columnist Victor Kobolev told Express.co.uk that Putin’s attempts to destabilise Ukraine’s infrastructure and withhold energy from the West were part of a deliberate “terror” strategy, as these tactics hurt civilians without providing military gains.
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Austria has previously tried to maintain strong relations with Russia, and in 2018 was the only EU country not to expel Russian diplomats following the Salisbury poisoning.
However, Ms Kehrer said: “It is very difficult to explain the shock that we received with the Russian invasion”.
Austria is also particularly dependent on Russian gas, and currently receives about 80 percent of its natural gas from the dictatorship. A recent study by the Energy Agency shows that Austria could manage without Russian gas from 2027 – and the diplomat reiterated the country’s desire to shift to renewable energy, despite the “sacrifice” it involves.
Other Austrian officials have hinted that the country aims to move closer to the EU.
The country’s defence minister Klaudia Tanner told Euronews: “It is very important that we coordinate more closely with the neutral countries or those that do not belong to an alliance like NATO. Maybe it is also an opportunity, when the time comes, to offer a stage for diplomatic opportunities — at some point, not at the present time — but at some point, this day will come.”
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Austria’s foreign minister Alexander Shallenberg also offered criticism of Russia, stating that the reported use of Iranian “kamikaze” drones in the war represents an escalation by the Kremlin.
He said in a meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday: “These kamikaze drones that we are seeing in Ukraine apparently now – this is an escalation.”
Sweden, Finland and even historically neutral Switzerland have also abandoned their non-alignment and are moving closer to NATO membership, at varying paces. This has yet to be a priority for Austria, however, with 80 percent of the population supporting remaining out of the alliance.
On March 7, Chancellor Karl Nehammer, a conservative politician, tweeted that Austrian neutrality is “not up for debate” and the leader of the center-left Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPO), Pamela Rendi-Wagner, frequently calls Vienna’s neutrality “non-negotiable.”
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega.