On Saturday, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, made a flying visit to Austria in order to attend the wedding of the foreign minister of the country prior to his trip to Berlin to meet with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor.
The authorities of Austria inflicted tight security measures around the site of the ceremony that was near the southern border with Slovenia, where Karin Kneissl, the Austrian Foreign Minister, married Wolfgang Meilinger, her partner and a businessman. Kneissl was an independent who was nominated by the pro-Russia Austrian Freedom Party. The leaders of the said party were also present during the wedding.
Pictures showed Putin dancing with the bride. Kneissl was dressed in a traditional Austrian costume. According to ORF, the Austrian public broadcaster, Putin also brought a small Cossack men’s choir along with him to entertain the approximately 100 guests who were there at the wedding.
Joerg Leichtfried, an Austrian lawmaker who is from the opposition Social Democratic Party criticized the decision of Kneissl to invite Putin to the wedding. He said that it called into question the role of Austria as a neutral intermediary in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where rebels who are supported by Russia are battling the forces of the government. Currently, Austria is holding the rotating presidency of the European Union.
Dmitry Peskov, the spokesperson of Putin, informed Russian news agencies that the Russian president spent nearly an hour at the wedding. According to Peskov, Putin gave the newlyweds a traditional Russian samovar, a cold press oil machine, and a landscape painting that “depicts the place where the groom hails from.”
Peskov said that Putin delivered “quite a long toast in German in which he said he was thankful and happy that he got a chance to visit the hospitable Austria.”
Talking hours later alongside Merkel prior to the bilateral talks of the two leaders at the guesthouse of the German government in Meseberg, north of Berlin, Putin said that they would talk about economic cooperation, bilateral ties, and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline of Russia beneath the Baltic Sea.
The United States and some countries in Europe have criticized the said pipeline. They said that could increase the energy dependence of Europe on Russia, harm Ukraine which is currently a major gas transit country, and pose a risk to the environment.
In 2017, 53 billion cubic meters of Russian gas was imported by Germany.
Putin stated: “Nord Steam 2 is purely an economic project and it doesn’t close the door to shipping gas through Ukraine.” The transit fees for Russian gas are an essential item that is contributing to the budget of Ukraine.
On Saturday, the protesters were loud outside the guesthouse in Meseberg. Putin also raised the issue regarding humanitarian aid and the funding for international reconstruction in Syria.
He stated: “It’s important to help those areas that the refugees can return to.”
“I think it’s in everyone’s interests, including Europe’s.”
Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria who were fleeing the war. In the past, it has insisted that it would not contribute to the reconstruction of Syria before a political settlement to stop the war has been agreed upon.
Merkel said that the discussions would also touch on the likelihood of establishing a United Nations mission to help bring peace in Ukraine.