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Putin to attend Austrian foreign minister's wedding, reportedly with gift of a Cossack choir

Posted by On August 18, 2018

Putin to attend Austrian foreign minister's wedding, reportedly with gift of a Cossack choir

August 18 at 3:18 AM

BERLIN â€" It’s the wedding event of the Austrian summer, and all the stars of the country’s political universe will be there. Plus one very special foreign guest.

When Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl gets married at a vineyard in the hills of southern Austria on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be on hand to give his blessing. And he’s bringing along a Cossack choir that will perform as a gift to the newlyweds, the Austrian media reported.

The country’s foreign ministry said the ceremony would be private, and the media was expected to be kept away. But with Putin’s attendance, the personal event has taken on a very public meaning for Europe. And it has generated a backlash within Austria.

Austria has for decades been neutral in the struggle between East and West, maintaining strong ties with bot h Russia and with its allies in the European Union, not to mention the United States.

But the small Alpine country of 9 million has pivoted closer to Moscow since the end of last year, when a government coalition of the center-right People’s Party and the far-right Freedom Party took office. The latter in 2016 signed a cooperation pact with Putin’s United Russia Party.

The 53-year-old Kneissl, an academic and journalist before taking office in December, is officially independent. But she was selected for her post by the Freedom Party.

Like the party, she opposes Europe’s sanctions against Russia. When other E.U. nations expelled Russian diplomats in March in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil, Austria pointedly declined to take part. As Putin and President Trump planned their summit this summer, the Kremlin initially favored Vienna as the venue before Helsinki won out.

Although Kneissl is not believed t o be personally close to Putin, she invited him to her wedding when he visited Vienna in June. The Kremlin announced he had accepted the invitation this week. Kneissl will marry Wolfgang Meilinger, an entrepreneur.

The wedding gives Putin a highly symbolic platform to demonstrate his deepening ties with political leaders in Europe. Putin has long regarded the E.U. as an adversary, and Russia has sought to sow division on the continent. That effort has received a boost in recent years by the electoral success of populist parties, many of which share Moscow’s contempt for Brussels.

The timing is particularly apt for Putin given that Austria currently holds the rotating E.U. presidency.

In addition to Putin, the two most powerful figures in Austria â€" Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache, who leads the Freedom Party â€" are also expected to attend Saturday’s wedding. Kurz has called for Austria to be “a bridge builder” betw een Russia and the West.

There was no official confirmation Saturday morning of Austrian media reports that Putin intended to bring along the Cossack choir. The Kremlin said on Wednesday that the Russian president had personally chosen his wedding gift for Kneissl, but would not reveal details.

Putin’s presence was criticized by opposition lawmakers in Austria.

Michel Reimon, a Green Party member of the European Parliament, told reporters that the invitation had “squandered the good reputation of the country.” He called on Kneissl to resign.

“How is Austria's presidency of the European Union meant to live up to the government’s own claims of building bridges and being an honest broker when Austria’s foreign minister and chancellor are so obviously on one side?” asked Andreas Schieder, a lawmaker from the center-left Social Democrats.

That view was echoed in Ukraine, where Russia has used military force to annex territory â€" Crim ea â€" and to support separatists attempting to cleave off even more of the country.

“If you invite Vladimir Putin to your wedding, you are not neutral anymore,” tweeted Ukrainian foreign affairs committee chair Hanna Hopko. “From now on, Austria can’t be a mediator in Ukraine. Period.”

Putin’s attendance at the wedding was expected to overshadow his visit to Germany later on Saturday, when he is due to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel for the second time in the past three months.

The pair was expected to focus talks at Merkel’s countryside residence Meseberg, outside Berlin, on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. No major decisions are expected, but the two have stepped up their engagement as ties with the United States have frayed.

“Russia is an international actor without whom the solution of various international problems is unthinkable,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists on Friday. “That’s the value of such m eetings.”

Read more: Austria’s far-right government ordered a raid on its own intelligence service. Now allies are freezing the country out.

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Source: Google News Austria | Netizen 24 Austria

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