Row over Putin’s attendance at Austria minister’s wedding

Austria's Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl addresses the media before a two-day cabinet meeting in Seggau, Austria, in this January 5, 2018 photo. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 August 2018
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Row over Putin’s attendance at Austria minister’s wedding

  • The invitation to Putin has angered Kiev, which said it would prevent Austria playing a role in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine
  • Putin confirmed he would be attending the wedding before heading to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel near Berlin on Saturday evening

VIENNA: The expected attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin at Saturday’s wedding of Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl sparked a row Friday over whether the visit was appropriate.
“How is Austria’s presidency of the EU meant to live up to the government’s own claims of building bridges (between the EU and Russia) and being an honest broker, when Austria’s foreign minister and chancellor are so obviously on one side?” asked MP Andreas Schieder of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe).
SPOe MEP Evelyn Regner said the invite sent a “shameful” image of Austria to its EU partners, branding it “a provocation of European proportions.”
The Greens called for Kneissl’s resignation, pointing out that “Vladimir Putin is the EU’s most aggressive enemy in matters of foreign policy.”
Kneissl, 53, who was nominated for the post by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), will marry businessman Wolfgang Meilinger in a ceremony in a wine-growing village near the southeastern city of Graz.
Putin confirmed he would be attending the wedding before heading to talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel near Berlin on Saturday evening.
Putin’s attendance was originally described as a “private event” by Kneissl’s office but has since been upgraded to a “working visit.”
Several hundred police officers will take part in the security operation around the wedding.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the center-right People’s Party (OeVP) and FPOe Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache are also expected at the ceremony.
In 2016, the FPOe signed a “cooperation pact” with Putin’s United Russia party.
The invitation to Putin has angered Kiev, which said it would prevent Austria playing a role in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
The foreign ministry has insisted that Putin’s visit “will not change anything in terms of Austria’s foreign policy positions.”
The invitation has even provoked some criticism from within Kurz’s own OeVP party, with one of its MEPs Othmar Karas saying: “I can’t grasp the logic and the purpose of making such a personal occasion political and open to misuse in this way.”
Russia has been accused of seeking to weaken and divide the EU, notably by maintaining links with populist parties in several European countries.
Kurz’s OeVP and the FPOe have been in coalition together since December after an election campaign in which both parties ran on anti-immigration platforms.


N.Korea’s Kim to Putin: US acted in ‘bad faith’ at Hanoi talks

Updated 6 min 14 sec ago
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N.Korea’s Kim to Putin: US acted in ‘bad faith’ at Hanoi talks

  • At Hanoi, Pyongyang demanded immediate relief from US sanctions, but the two sides disagreed over what the North was prepared to give up in return
  • Russia has already called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures

VLADIVOSTOK, Russia: At his first summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accused the United States of acting in “bad faith” at their most recent talks, state media in Pyongyang said Friday.
Kim and Putin met Thursday in the far eastern Russian port of Vladivostok, for their first summit — squarely aimed at countering US influence as Kim faces off with Donald Trump over Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.
Putin was keen to put Moscow forward as a player in a new global flashpoint — and it appears Kim was eager to take him up on the idea, during talks described by KCNA as “unreserved and friendly.”
The two leaders greeted each other warmly, shaking hands and sharing smiles, at the start of meetings on an island off Vladivostok that lasted nearly five hours.
Putin, known for delaying meetings with international guests, was waiting for Kim when he emerged from his limousine.
During the talks, Kim said “the situation on the Korean peninsula and the region is now at a standstill and has reached a critical point,” the Korean Central News Agency said.
He warned that the situation “may return to its original state as the US took a unilateral attitude in bad faith at the recent second DPRK-US summit talks,” the agency added.
“Peace and security on the Korean peninsula will entirely depend on the US future attitude, and the DPRK will gird itself for every possible situation,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying.
The Kim-Trump summit broke down in late February without a deal on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.
At those talks, cash-strapped Pyongyang demanded immediate relief from sanctions, but the two sides disagreed over what the North was prepared to give up in return.
Russia has already called for the sanctions to be eased, while the US has accused it of trying to help Pyongyang evade some of the measures — accusations Moscow denies.
Just a week ago, Pyongyang demanded the removal of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the stalled nuclear talks, accusing him of derailing the process.
On Thursday, Putin emerged from the meeting saying that like Washington, Moscow supports efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and prevent nuclear conflicts.
But he also insisted that the North needed “guarantees of its security, the preservation of its sovereignty.”
“We need to... return to a state where international law, not the law of the strongest, determines the situation in the world,” Putin said.
Kim said he hoped to usher in a “new heyday” in ties between Pyongyang and Moscow.
Both men said they were looking to strengthen ties that date back to the Soviet Union’s support for the founder of North Korea, Kim’s grandfather Kim Il Sung.
The two shared a lunch that included borscht, crab salad and venison dumplings, Russian news agency TASS reported.
The North Korean leader invited Putin to visit North Korea “at a convenient time” and the invitation was “readily accepted,” KCNA said.
Kim, who arrived in Vladivostok aboard his armored train, was expected to stay until Friday for cultural events that Russian media have reported will include a ballet and a visit to the city’s aquarium.
The meeting was Kim’s first with another head of state since returning from his Hanoi summit with Trump.
It followed repeated invitations from Putin after Kim embarked on a series of diplomatic overtures last year.
Since March 2018, the North Korean leader has held four meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, three with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, two with Trump and one with Vietnam’s president.
Putin told reporters that he would fill in Washington on the results of the talks.
“There are no secrets here, no conspiracies... Chairman Kim himself asked us to inform the American side of our position,” said Putin.
There were no concrete announcements or agreements in Vladivostok, but analysts said Thursday’s meeting was valuable to both sides.
“For North Korea, it’s all about securing another exit. China talks about sanctions relief but it doesn’t really put it into action,” said Koo Kab-woo, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“For Russia, North Korea is elevating it back to one of the direct parties, on the same footing as China.”
Among the issues that were likely discussed was the fate of some 10,000 North Korean laborers working in Russia and due to leave by the end of this year under sanctions.
Labour is one of North Korea’s key exports and sources of cash. Pyongyang has reportedly asked Russia to continue to employ its workers after the deadline.
Soon after his first election as Russian president, Putin sought to normalize relations with Pyongyang and met Kim Jong Il — the current leader’s father and predecessor — three times, including a 2002 meeting also held in Vladivostok.
China has since cemented its role as the isolated North’s most important ally, its largest trading partner and crucial fuel supplier, and analysts say Kim could be looking to balance Beijing’s influence.
The last meeting between the leaders of Russia and North Korea came in 2011, when Kim Jong Il told then-president Dmitry Medvedev that he was prepared to renounce nuclear testing.
His son has since overseen by far the country’s most powerful blast to date, and launch of missiles which Pyongyang says are capable of reaching the entire US mainland.