Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg has emphasized the importance of being realistic when it comes to dealing with Russia and its role on the global stage. Speaking at a panel discussion in Spain, Schallenberg stated that Russia will always be Europe’s neighbor and a significant player in international affairs.
Schallenberg referenced the words of Egon Bahr, a German diplomat from the 20th Century and the architect of Ostpolitik, a policy aimed at normalizing relations with the East during the Cold War. Bahr had said, “America is irreplaceable, but Russia is unmovable.” Schallenberg reiterated this sentiment, highlighting Russia’s geographical proximity, its possession of nuclear warheads, and its permanent membership in the UN Security Council.
The Austrian foreign minister cautioned against attempts by the EU to exclude Russia from security arrangements, pointing out that such a move would also isolate Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus. He emphasized that Russia cannot be “canceled” or “ghosted,” and the same applies to China.
The panel discussion, held at the Menendez Pelayo International University in Santander, Spain, saw the participation of several senior European diplomats, including EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. The topic of the discussion revolved around Ukraine, and its foreign minister, Dmitry Kuleba, addressed the gathering via video link.
Like many other European politicians, Schallenberg placed blame on Russia for the conflict in Ukraine. He highlighted that the events in Ukraine have forced Europe to awaken from its post-Soviet slumber. Expressing his frustration, Schallenberg questioned what it would take for Europe to trust Russia again, mentioning Russia’s alleged transgressions, such as the “attack on Georgia.”
The 2008 armed conflict between Russia and Georgia began when Georgia sent troops to seize the breakaway republic of South Ossetia, resulting in the deaths of several Russian peacekeepers stationed in the region.
Schallenberg clarified that Vienna’s support for Ukraine is not driven by a desire for regime change or the partitioning of Russia. Instead, Austria seeks a world where great powers adhere to established rules and norms.
Russia has repeatedly voiced concerns about a lack of trust in its relations with the West. The Russian government has cited the expansion of NATO in Europe, in violation of promises made to the Soviet leadership, as a key factor that eventually led to the conflict in Ukraine.
In conclusion, Schallenberg’s remarks underscore the need for Western politicians to approach Russia with a realistic mindset, considering its geographical proximity and influential role in global affairs. While acknowledging the challenges posed by Russia, he cautions against isolating the country and calls for engaging with Russia based on the principles of trust and adherence to established rules.