FPÖ Distances Itself from Friendship Treaty with "United Russia"

PeoplePoliticians ♦ Published: April 14, 2024; 22:14 ♦ (Vindobona)

In a press conference, the Third President of the National Council, Norbert Hofer, clarified that the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) relativizes the friendship treaty concluded with the United Russia party in 2016. This comes in light of the recent accusations of an espionage affair involving the FPÖ.

Is party leader Herbert Kickl trying to relativize his party's closeness to Russia given the upcoming election campaign in Austria? / Picture: © Wikimedia Commons / C.Stadler/Bwag / CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Hofer emphasized that the treaty was signed long before the geopolitical tensions, especially before Russia invaded Ukraine. Hofer recalled that Russian President Vladimir Putin was warmly welcomed by other European political parties and politicians around 2016. He referred to visits to Putin by the then Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner, former President Heinz Fischer, former Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, and others.

The Third President of the National Council went on to explain that the treaty was never actively implemented and only existed on paper. "There was this paper eight years ago, but it was not filled with life by either side," Hofer said, referring to the political climate at the time and statements made by Alexander Van der Bellen in his 2015 book criticizing NATO's Ukraine policy.

Hofer revealed that he personally never held the treaty in his hands and that it was no longer an issue after Heinz-Christian Strache left the party. The contract had been lost within the party and only reappeared after investigations by the press. The notice period for the contract had already expired when Herbert Kickl took over the party leadership and decided not to extend the contract. Party leader Kickl is said to have previously stated that he did not want to extend the cooperation agreement with Putin's United Russia party, which expires at the end of 2021. "We simply don't need it," he said at the time.

Agreement on Collaboration and Cooperation

The aforementioned "Agreement on Collaboration and Cooperation" was signed on December 19, 2016, in the presence of FPÖ leader Heinz Christian Strache, National Council President Hofer, the then Deputy Mayor of Vienna Johann Gudenus, and MEP Harald Vilimsky. In the document, the parties agreed to "regularly exchange party delegations at various levels". They also wanted to "organize the exchange of experiences in legislative activities". They also wanted to support each other in the areas of "economy, trade, and investment". Part of the ten-part agreement was also to cooperate in "youth, women's, educational, aid and other social organizations" with the aim of "strengthening friendship and educating the young generation in the spirit of patriotism and joy of work".

In December 2021, top Kremlin party official Andrey Klimov said that the agreement had been concluded in 2016 at the request of the Austrian side and that, to his knowledge, the FPÖ had not shown any activities within the framework of this five-year agreement. "These five years have now expired. What can you say about that? It happens," Klimov said at the time in his role as chairman of the United Russia commission for cooperation with other parties.

Political reactions

The ÖVP sees the FPÖ as an admission of guilt which, according to ÖVP security spokesman Christian Stocker, "speaks volumes", as reported by ORF. The Greens and NEOS have also criticized the FPÖ for betraying Austria's national interests to Russia. However, the NEOS accuses the ÖVP of hypocrisy by pointing to past coalitions and collaborations with the FPÖ.

The FPÖ is under pressure to distance itself from its historic deal with Putin's party, while the political landscape in Austria continues to be characterized by mutual accusations and demands for transparency.