Home News Russia’s models for post-war Ukraine: Austria and Sweden

Russia’s models for post-war Ukraine: Austria and Sweden

Published on 16/03/2022
Written by Blaise GAUQUELIN with Pia OHLIN in Stockholm
Published from AFP.com

Austria and Sweden have stayed out of NATO since its founding in the mid-20th century and avoided involvement in military hostilities, but their reputations as “neutral” nations have evolved over time.

ustria and Sweden have stayed out of NATO since its founding in the mid-20th century and avoided involvement in military hostilities, but their reputations as “neutral” nations have evolved over time.

The Kremlin on Wednesday called for Kyiv to adopt a status similar to Sweden and Austria, describing it as a “compromise” option as the two countries grind through conflict talks nearly three weeks into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

But Kyiv quickly rejected the proposal, saying talks with Moscow to end fighting should focus on “security guarantees”.

Here AFP looks at the history of the “neutral” status of Austria, Finland and Sweden, and what it could mean for Ukraine.

– Austria’s neutrality –

In Austria, the policy of neutrality was imposed by the then Soviet Union as a price for the end of the Allies’ post-war occupation of the country in 1955.

“Neutrality is part of the country’s identity,” says Martin Senn, political scientist at Innsbruck university.

The policy offered the country an honourable way of exiting the rubble of World War II and avoiding the blame for complicity in the Nazi regime.

It then made use of its status to host high-profile international organisations and summits including between then US president John F Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev in 1961, and their successors Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev in 1979.

However, since the end of the Cold War, Austria has taken several steps towards the Western camp.

It joined the European Union in 1995 and participated in the joint security and defence policy outlined in the 2009 Lisbon treaty.
ustria has said its neutrality does not prevent it from condemning breaches of international law and has condemned the invasion of Ukraine.

But according to Senn, there has never been “a true discussion on the issue of neutrality”, which is now “urgently needed”.

Military figures have also spoken out in favour of more defence spending, a stance backed by the public in a recent survey.

In the EU, only Ireland and Malta spend a lower share of their GDP on defence than in Austria, where the figure stands at 0.7 percent.
ustria’s government — headed by ex-soldier Karl Nehammer — has said it wants to boost this to one percent to match neighbouring Switzerland.

Despite this, Nehammer has ruled out any change to the country’s officially neutral status.

Looking at the opinion polls, it’s not hard to see why — despite the war, four out of five Austrians are still opposed to the idea of joining NATO.

– Attitudes shift in Sweden –

By contrast in Sweden and neighbouring Finland, support for NATO membership has soared, with some polls showing a majority in favour of joining the alliance for the first time.

Russia’s invasion has shifted attitudes in both countries.

Sweden ended its neutrality at the end of the Cold War and is now described as militarily non-aligned in peacetime and neutral in times of war.

While not being a member of NATO, since the mid-1990s, it has been a partner of the alliance and has grown closer to it.

Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea had already spurred a major boost to defence spending, which had fallen from around four percent of GDP in the 1960s and 70s to just over one percent by the early 2010s.

Following the invasion, the government said this would reach two percent “as soon as possible”.

However, despite the shifting poll numbers, centre-left Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson ruled out joining NATO, saying this risks “destabilising” northern Europe.

In Finland however, President Sauli Niinisto has called for the membership issue to be decided “without hesitation but carefully”.

The question is due to be discussed by MPs after they consult a report on the risks and benefits of joining expected next month.

Finland still has bitter memories of the so-called “Finlandisation” imposed on the country by Moscow during the Cold War.

That refers to a period of forced neutrality and the policies to suppress anti-Soviet sentiment in the political and cultural spheres.
fter the Soviet Union’s collapse, Finland also joined the EU.
n application by either country to join NATO would provoke anger in Russia, which has warned of “serious political and military consequences” for such a move.