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Austria’s Addiction

In the aftermath of Moscow’s order to deploy soldiers in Ukrainian territory, European nations have swiftly taken action to reduce their long-standing reliance on cheap Russian gas. The geopolitical situation has sparked a push for energy independence across the continent, with some countries making significant strides towards diversifying their energy sources. Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, and Italy are among the nations successfully reducing their imports from Russia. However, one country stands out for its struggle to break free from Russian gas: Austria. Despite pressure from critics and concerns about financing Moscow’s war machine, Austria’s dependency on Russian gas persists. This article explores Austria’s predicament and the complexities that impede its energy transition.

Austria’s Reliance on Russian Gas

Before the conflict, Austria heavily relied on Russian gas, with nearly 80 percent of its supply coming from Russia. Though some European nations swiftly reduced their Russian gas imports, Austria has not managed to achieve the same results. Its supply of gas from Russia remained consistent even during peak demand periods, reaching 74 percent in March, while other nations drastically reduced or eliminated their Russian gas imports.

Challenges in Transitioning to Alternative Sources

Transitioning to alternative energy sources presents a unique set of challenges for Austria. As a landlocked country, it lacks the option to build terminals for importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) via ships, as seen in Germany, Italy, or Greece. Additionally, immediate termination of Russian gas imports would lead to severe economic consequences and mass unemployment, which further complicates the transition.

Political and Logistical Complexities

Austria’s predicament is not solely a logistical and economic one; it is also a matter of political allegiance. Officially neutral since 1955, Austria’s Constitution bars it from becoming a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). However, critics argue that its continued reliance on Russian gas raises concerns about its close ties to Russian interests. The country has faced pressure from its allies to take a more confrontational stance against Moscow.

Influence of Political Elites

Some analysts suggest that the Austrian political elite maintains a sympathetic stance towards Russia, hindering more assertive actions against the country. Ties between Austrian political figures and Russia, such as the former foreign minister’s association with Russian businesses and organizations, have raised eyebrows. These connections have led to doubts about Austria’s willingness to accelerate its transition to renewable energy and distance itself from Russian gas.

The Gazprom Deal and Diversification Efforts

Austria’s gas contract with Gazprom, signed in 2018, remains in effect until 2040, allowing the country to purchase six billion cubic meters of gas annually. Despite pressure from critics, Austrian energy company OMV has continued to procure Russian gas, investing billions in these imports. The government’s efforts to diversify its gas supply and end its dependence on Russia have been met with skepticism.

Looking Towards the Future

As the current contract between Gazprom and Ukraine expires at the end of the next year, the pressure on Austria to find alternative energy solutions intensifies. Ukraine’s decision not to renew the contract could significantly impact European gas supplies, with TurkStream being the only entry point for piped gas into Europe. Time is of the essence for Austria to take decisive action and forge a path towards energy independence.