Vladimir Putin Visits Vienna to Mark 50th Anniversary of Gas Deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Austria on Tuesday in his first trip to the West since being re-elected to the Kremlin and was rebuffed when he called for European Union sanctions to be lifted.

The Russian leader was given full military honours as he met with Alexander van der Bellen, the Austrian president, and Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor.

The visit is full of symbolic importance for both sides. Fifty years ago this month, Austria became the first Western European country to sign a natural gas deal with the Soviet Union, a commercial arrangement that survives to this day. Next month, Austria takes over the rotating EU presidency, just as Russia has begun making signals that it wants to engage more with Europe. It sees Vienna as an important ally.

Mr Putin used the opportunity to argue for the lifting of Western sanctions imposed over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, telling a joint press conference it would benefit all sides.

An Austria energy company signed a new deal with Russia’s Gazprom to secure gas supplies until 2040, and Mr Kurz spoke of how the two countries “cooperate well not only in the political but also in the economic sphere”.

Mr Kurz has made no secret of his desire to preserve good relations with Moscow, saying he wants Austria to be a “bridge” between Russia and the West.

“Today we had the opportunity to talk about international issues, that Russia as a superpower has a great significance in Syria and eastern Ukraine, and that Russia has a great responsibility. We hope Russia will contribute to people finally seeing what they are longing for: peace,” he said after meeting with Mr Putin on Tuesday.

In an interview with Austrian television ahead of the talks, Mr Putin insisted he was not trying to split Europe. “We want a united and prosperous Europe,” he said, arguing the EU is Russia’s most important economic partner.

“The more problems at the heart of the EU, the more risks and problems there are for us,” he said.

Mr Putin also told Austrian television that he and Donald Trump “regularly talk over the phone” and that Mr Trump had expressed fears over a new arms race in a recent call.

“Donald said he was worried about the possibility of a new arms race,” Mr Putin said. “I fully agree with him, however, to prevent a possible arms race, we should think about it, we should do something about it.”

Putin’s visit is part of celebrations marking 50 years since energy firms OMV and Gazprom first signed a gas supply deal – they signed a fresh accord on Tuesday extending their agreement until 2040.

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