Austrian troops in Ukraine? FPÖ party slams Green president as ‘warmonger’ after calling to use army for Ukrainian mine clearing operations

FILE - An interior ministry sapper defuses a mine on a minefield after recent battles in Irpin close to Kyiv, Ukraine, on April 19, 2022. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, File)
By Dénes Albert
3 Min Read

The leader of Austria’s conservative Freedom Party (FPÖ), Herbert Kickl, has criticized President Alexander van der Bellen’s (Greens) proposal to send Austrian mine clearance teams to Ukraine, claiming such a move would be tantamount to Austria joining the war.

Van der Bellen proposed utilizing the Austrian army to clear Russian mines in the war-torn country during a Council of Europe summit in Reykjavik, which ended on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Austrian federal president, who is also the army’s commander-in-chief, said: “I don’t understand why the federal government is still hesitating on the question of de-mining. Support in de-mining civilian areas such as residential buildings, schools, kindergartens or agricultural areas certainly does not contradict Austrian neutrality, but is a humanitarian matter.”

However, a number of politicians from across the political spectrum disagree with van der Bellen’s assessment, not least Kickl, who wrote on his party’s website: “Not so long ago, van der Bellen wanted to abolish our army, now he wants to lend it to a warring country.

“Alexander van der Bellen is treading on dangerous political ice when he says that Austrian soldiers could defuse mines in Ukraine. The devil must have ridden the president with this announcement because to carry out a military operation in a warring country is certainly not compatible with our neutrality,” Kickl added.

Clear violation of neutrality

The FPÖ leader said that the federal president, who should actually act as the guardian of the constitution, was thus completely ignoring Austria’s enshrined perpetual neutrality by now wanting to send soldiers to a country where they could ultimately become involved in acts of war.

“Van der Bellen wanted to abolish our army, and now he and his Green friends like Werner Kogler and co. are acting as warmongers beyond compare,” Kickl said.

Does van der Bellen not care about Austria’s much-priased constitution?

“Our neutrality is not to be shaken. A federal president who questions this and our freedom of alliance is out of place,” the conservative party leader added.

In an interview with Austrian public service broadcaster Ö1, Defense Minister Klaudia Tanner of the ÖVP also spoke out against the president’s idea, saying that Austria should only take part in any such initiative after the end of hostilities in Ukraine.

She insisted it is currently impossible to “distinguish between humanitarian and military mine clearance” in Ukraine, and highlighted that the Austrian army’s mine clearance units are currently deployed in the Western Balkans.

“There must be no security risk for Austrian soldiers. The situation in Ukraine is unstable and unpredictable,” added ÖVP military spokesman Friedrich Ofenauer, who is also against the proposal.

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