In Delhi, Austrian foreign minister says Putin "miscalculated" his invasion of Ukraine

Written By: Sidhant Sibal WION
New Delhi, India Updated: Mar 21, 2022, 06:19 PM(IST)

In Delhi, Austrian FM says Putin "miscalculated" his invasion of Ukraine Photograph:( WION )

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Speaking to our Principal Diplomatic Sidhant Sibal, FM Schallenberg on Austrian Model of neutrality for Ukraine said, " this is something Ukrainians themselves have to decide and we have to respect their own decision".

Austrian foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg who is on India visit has said that Russian President Putin "miscalculated" his invasion of Ukraine and " thought Ukrainians won't put up a fight, and he thought west won't react strongly". The Austrian FM met External Affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar on Sunday and he is the first European Foreign minister to visit Delhi since the Russian invasion started on 24th February. 

Speaking to our Principal Diplomatic Sidhant Sibal, FM Schallenberg on Austrian Model of neutrality for Ukraine said, " this is something Ukrainians themselves have to decide and we have to respect their own decision". There were reports of Kremlin proposing an Austria, Sweden model for Ukraine.

Asked on French President Macron proposing EU army, FM said, " Austria by constitution is neutral country we could not prevent such a development but might not be part of EU army at the end because that is core issue of being neutral". During the Delhi visit, the foreign minister is accompanied by a large business delegation.

WION: What brings you here to Delhi amid the geopolitical turmoil we are witnessing?

Alexander Schallenberg: I am happy to be here, I grew up here in India Its sort of homecoming to certain degree. And secondly, we have something we thought was never possible, we have war again in Europe and we have a brutal invasion of Russia in Ukraine, and this is a country actually neighboring Austria. Seen from Vienna, the capital of Austria, the border of Ukraine is closer than the western most part of the country and we are not a big country. As you said, we are witnessing an earthquake, tectonic shifts are taking place and while witnessing that we have to realize that we have to not only focus on Ukraine, this is not a European war, the shock waves will be felt all around the globe, also in South Asia, also in India. India has been a key partner in a very geopolitically important region, and we have to look into the Indo pacific region, what is going on here, what is China doing to take out of this conflict we have seen as a message and I believe politics wont be same in next coming years. 

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WION: You meet with India's external affairs minister Dr S Jaishankar, what were the key focus areas? and I believe Ukraine was the major component of discussion?

Alexander Schallenberg: Yes, we discussed obviously the situation going on in Europe, possible impact in Asia and India in particular, but we also discussed regional issues. I had to spend last couple of days in Pakistan. This is a very important region, it is an important region world wide, key region if you want stability in the wider Asian region. We discussed bilateral issues too, I am accompanied by larger business delegation and believe there is huge potential between Austria and India business wise. The aim of the whole trip is to put Austria more firmly on political and economic map of India and vice versa, to put India more firmly on our political and economic map, in Austria.

WION: How do you India's stance when it comes to Ukraine crisis?

Alexander Schallenberg: For us this is something that is happening in the neighborhood, its a shock basically. We thought this wont happen again, we see tanks moving into, country invading it. I believe everybody has to realize that it is a frontal attack on international security architecture. We have been building after the 2nd world war and after the fall of iron curtain. This is something that will leave no body indifferent because everybody will be touched. 

WION: The Ukraine, Russian side have discussed an Austrian model of neutrality? your reaction to it?

Alexander Schallenberg: Yes, it worked for us, I have to say. The Indian audience might not know but Austria after the 2nd world war was occupied for 10 years by the allies, meaning the Brits, The Americans, The French and the Red army, the Soviet Union at that time. We managed to get a treaty and declared our self-neutral and everybody pulled out as a consequence. But this was unique to Austria, every country, people have to take own path and I have to say Ukrainians are struggling the fighting, the courage is impressive and I think you have to be very careful to suggest to them, at this moment when they are being attacked from outside, listen guys get neutral and everything will be over, this is something Ukrainians themselves have to decide and we have to respect there own decision.

WION: France's President Macron has suggested an EU army, your take..

Alexander Schallenberg: If you look at the history of European integration, at the beginning of history there was a deal of having a defence union, including possibly an EU Army but this idea has never dissipated, never disappeared and what we are witnessing now, you can call it a geopolitical shock for Europe. We have been very peaceful force focused on economic affairs but in last 2-3 weeks we have taken geopolitical stance, which I believe will not go away. And yes to be more resilient as far as military means are concerned is a topic which is very much in present, upfront in political debate and yes we have seen countries like Germany, and even Austria has decided to increase defence spending. That is an immediate reaction to situation in Ukraine. EU Army could be at the very end of this development. For us, neutral country, Austria by constitution is neutral country we could not prevent such a development but might not be part of EU army at the end because that is core issue of being neutral.

WION: And I think you haven't allowed weapons to be transferred to Ukraine from your territory...

Alexander Schallenberg: We have allowed it, we have a system that is there is an international decision ether by the EU, by OECD, or by the UN then we can allow transfer through Austrian territory. We have a foreign policy decision by the European Union, so we are not preventing any kind of transport. As far a politically we are concerned, Austria is not neutral. We are neutral in military terms, we are not neutral politically. We have never been since 1955, we know exactly where we stand, we are on the side of international law, humanitarian law, and rules based international order. 

WION: Lot of worry for China in the Asia, in India, an aggressive China. Do you see impact of Ukraine crisis in India pacific and what can Austria do to strengthen the vision?

Alexander Schallenberg: I believe what we are witnessing is the fact is Putin miscalculated. He thought Ukrainians won't put up a fight, and he thought west won't react strongly, well he was wrong on both accounts. I believe the west is standing together so strongly, the US, Canada, Australia and the EU and other countries, like minded country has a very strong message for everybody on the planet, that is you attack rules based order, we wont stand ideally and simply watch and there will be a reaction.

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WION: You are here in Delhi, after 15 years a visit by Austrian foreign minister, how will your visit strengthen the ties?

Alexander Schallenberg: I am extremely pleased because I am accompanied by nearly 20 business people and will conclude contracts. This is something, the visit will have very concrete results,  and Austrian business can bring a lot to India, on green technologies, infrastructure, rail roads, we are top leaders in the planet, we have hidden champions and we have a very mutual beneficial relationship which could be strengthened and increased in next couple of years. The last time, 15 years ago when an Austrian foreign minister visited India, I was part of the delegation, I was then the spokesperson of the minister and changes are impressive, to the better. I have a soft spot for India, that is obvious, I am seeing the progress and I believe Austria companies, cultural wise we could be part of this development in this beautiful country.   

WION: You said you have soft spot for India, and you grew up in India, can you talk about this?

Alexander Schallenberg: As a very small kid, I spent 5 years here, and left at the age of 9 but that is sufficient to get flavor, feeing, the colors, the smell, taste and so on. And I had the opportunity to visit some of the places I have been playing as a kid, and luckily, they remain unchanged like the Lodi Garden where I played as a kid. Its a home coming to a certain degree and this is a country which has been very attaching.

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