Austrian lawmakers from the opposition Freedom Party (FPOe) walked out of the lower house of Austria’s parliament during a virtual address by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The politicians stressed that they were opposing the speech because it disregarded Austria’s neutrality principle.
Zelensky, who is begging for more lethal weapons ahead of an expected counteroffensive this spring, joined Austria’s lower house’s morning session via video link.
Little signs with the party insignia and the phrases “space for neutrality” or “space for peace” were left on the desks of lawmakers who left the chamber.
FPOe leader Herbert Kickl told journalists that Zelensky’s address violates Austria’s neutrality principle. It is worth noting that a protest was held outside the parliament building prior to the speech, demanding an upholding of the principle of neutrality.
The big picture
When countries such as Switzerland and Sweden abandoned their neutrality policies under NATO’s pressure, one country refused to bend.
Austria has recently become the center of a heated debate about its neutrality, with detractors suggesting that it should send military supplies to Ukraine. Earlier this month, an open letter inked by Austrian politician and First Vice-President of the European Parliament Othmar Karas urged for a shift in Austria’s security strategy.
Austrians have always regarded neutrality as part of their identity and wish to remain as disconnected from global politics as possible. It is worth noting that the current Chancellor Karl Nehammer was the first and only European to visit Moscow following the start of the war, while Austria’s President, Alexander van der Bellen, visited Kiev.
Maintaining communication connections with all sides is consistent with Vienna’s overall foreign policy strategy.
With the war entering its second year, there is mounting international pressure to show stronger support for Ukraine and take a harsher position against Russia.
All of this points to wider unresolved issues among NATO member states, which must contend with the fact that some states, such as Austria, do not perceive the Union as a cohesive geopolitical actor.