Austria’s new charm offensive with Erdoğan

Shortly after Austrian Chancellor Nehammer’s visit to the despot Putin in Moscow, he put Turkey in a positive light: he paid tribute to the “geo-strategic weight of Turkey” immediately after his tea time in the Kremlin, he had two meetings with Erdoğan, before and after his conversation with Putin, on the phone. And this after a very long period of time, during which relations between the two countries could be described as rather frosty.

Allegations of espionage by the Turkish religious authorities made the rounds in Vienna on the one hand, and Austria’s alleged “anti-Turkey obsession” was the topic of conversation in Ankara. But Russia’s Ukraine war seems to have changed the omen here, at least for the moment. Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer contacted the Turkish President several times to coordinate possible mediation efforts, and he remarkably often praised the ruler in Ankara. Now two members of the government from Vienna had traveled to Turkey, Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg and Interior Minister Gerhard Karner, to consult with their counterparts, Cavusoglu and Soylu. The heads of government of Austria and Turkey met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Madrid.

Although the populist Sebastian Kurz no longer runs the government in the Alpine republic, the issue of migration continues to play a major role. Interior Minister Karner said: “No country can fight the struggle against people smuggling and illegal migration on its own.” Schallenberg stated: “Migration pressure on Europe’s external borders has recently increased massively. Turkey is a key partner for Europe when it comes to preventing illegal migration.” In his charm offensive, Nehammer referred above all to the growing importance of Turkey as a possible transit country for gas from the Caspian Sea.

But there are a number of reasons – including European refugee management – that have given Erdoğan a new standing on the international stage since the start of the war in Ukraine. And he enjoys this new trust to the fullest.

Washington and Berlin also thank Erdoğan for dropping the veto against Finland and Sweden in NATO. Hymns of praise have also come from Paris instead of bashing, and Israel and the Arabs are normalizing their relations with Ankara. So the Austrians are right on trend. That’s called realpolitik.

“We have no problem with Austria,” said the Turkish foreign minister after the meeting with his “friend Alexander.” His Austrian colleague praised the frequency of the bilateral talks as “remarkable”. And that was only the crowning glory of the visits from Vienna: the Austrian Parliament President and the Vienna Mayor had already walked the red carpet on the Bosphorus to shake hands with the Sultan.

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