Why Austria Is Struggling to Break Away From Russian Gas

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In the 17 months since Russia invaded Ukraine, countries in Europe have been working to reduce their dependency on Russian gas. Germany, which previously received 55% of its gas from Russia, now imports none. Poland, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic have also halted or reduced their gas imports from Russia, and Italy aims to be free of Russian gas by the end of 2022. However, Austria continues to heavily depend on Russian gas, with nearly 80% of its gas supply coming from Russia before the invasion.

Austria’s difficulty in reducing its reliance on Russian gas has drawn criticism from those who believe that Austria’s gas payments are indirectly funding Russia’s war efforts. The Austrian government has pledged to reduce its gas imports from Russia, but critics argue that they are not doing enough. Austria has been reliant on gas from Russia for decades and does not have the option, like Germany or Italy, to simply build terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports.

The issue of Austria’s reliance on Russian gas is not only a logistical and economic challenge but also a political one. Austria has officially remained neutral and is not a member of NATO. Therefore, it has not faced formal sanctions on gas imports from Russia like those imposed on Russian oil and coal. Austria has strongly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and has taken in refugees, but it continues to receive its full gas allotment from Russia.

Austria’s ties to Russia have raised concerns that the country remains too closely aligned with Russian interests. Some Austrian political figures, including the former foreign minister, have had personal connections with Russia. The current deal with Gazprom, signed in 2018, allows Austria to buy six billion cubic meters of gas per year until 2040. OMV, Austria’s energy company, has also spent billions on Russian gas since the invasion began.

Moving forward, Austria’s energy minister has stated that the government remains committed to reducing gas imports from Russia by 2027. However, the situation may change as the current transit contract allowing gas shipments through Ukraine expires at the end of next year. If the contract is not renewed, it would leave TurkStream, the direct link between Russia and Turkey, as the sole entry point for Russian gas into Europe. Austria is running out of time to reduce its dependency on Russian gas, and the clock is ticking for finding alternative energy sources.

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