Is the European vector warming up?
Austria facilitating improved relations between Belarus and EU
All-knowing Wikipedia describes Sebastian Kurz as the youngest foreign minister in the world, while calling him a famous state and political figure of Austria. Few hold such authority at the age of 27. The Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs of the Austrian Republic, Mr. Kurz, recently chatted with the President of Belarus at the Palace of Independence.
Mr. Lukashenko shared his assessment of Europe’s interaction with post-Soviet countries, noting that former USSR republics were initially divided and assigned to particular European states, with Belarus coming under Austria’s zone of responsibility. Our strong business contacts are the result, with Austria having invested much into our economy, bringing the most advanced technologies.
For many years, Germany has shown a great deal of interest in collaborating with Belarus, welcomed by Minsk. However, over time, the West changed its strategies, leaving Belarus with no choice but to accept the situation. Nevertheless, the European vector of Belarusian foreign policy has recently warmed, with major EU figures arriving increasingly often. Commissioners replace ministers and influential people from the EU make repeated trips to Minsk. Belarus’s policy is clear and no sanctions currently influence us directly. We are always ready to negotiate.
Mr. Kurz’s visit is a good sign and the level of Belarusian-Austrian contacts can be judged by last year’s investment of over $0.5bn by Austrian businesses into Belarus. The figure once reached $900m but the current volume is solid and promising. Money is drawn to stability, showing that Austrian business believes Belarus to have a calm economic and political climate. Investment funds would not be forthcoming otherwise.
The President told his guest, “I hope that your visit will bring impetus to our co-operation. If you’re concerned about anything in relation to Belarus, don’t hesitate to share your concerns with me.”
In turn, Mr. Kurz noted the close economic contracts between our nations and recalled his meeting with Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Vladimir Makei, last November, at which an agreement was reached to develop all spheres of our relations. Later Mr. Kurz told journalists, “Unfortunately, ‘block thinking’ is returning, and not only to the political lexicon. We welcome Belarus’ actions in regulating the Ukrainian crisis. We must work to find a peaceful solution to this situation and to make ‘block thinking’ a thing of the past.”
Mr. Kurz commented that, during his November meeting with Mr. Makei, the pair signed an agreement to develop Belarus-Austria relations and to encourage positive dynamics in EU-Belarus relations. He admits that we are experiencing difficult times, especially regarding the EU’s relationship with its eastern neighbours, and notes definite concern over the crisis in Ukraine, which is affecting relations between the EU and the wider region.
The Federal Minister underlined that he understands the losses suffered by Belarus during the Great Patriotic War and added that many people were brought from Austria and killed on Belarusian territory.
By Vladimir Velikhov