Russia, Relations with


Russia, Relations with
   Only after the beginning of the 18th century was Tsarist Russia a problematic element in the foreign policy of the Habsburg monarchy. The ongoing expansion of the Romanov dynasty’s holdings to the west and southwest at the expense of two crumbling megastates, the kingdom of Poland and the Ottoman Empire, posed a potential threat to the house of Austria’s eastern borders. The thrust of Vienna’s foreign policy toward Russia was to avoid warfare but curb its territorial ambitions. Habsburg rulers participated with Russia in 1772 and again in 1795 in the partitions of Poland. Where possible, the Habsburgs used mutual advantage to make Russia an ally. Russia fought for a time on the Austrian side against Prussia in the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) and joined Joseph II in a fruitless Balkan War between 1788 and 1791. Russia and Austria were part of the Grand Coalition that beat back Napoleon Bonaparte and cooperated with Imperial Chancellor Klemens von Metternich and Emperor Francis I in keeping Europe monarchical between 1815 and 1848. The armed intervention of Tsar Nicholas I (1796–1855) brought nationalist separatism in Hungary to a halt in 1849.
   The Habsburg Empire, however, did not always reciprocate. Russia expected the help of Emperor Franz Joseph during the Crimean War (1853–1856), but none was forthcoming. In the second half of the 19th century, relations between St. Petersburg and Vienna grew markedly more tense. Russia continued to press for military and naval advantage south to the Black Sea, where the Ottoman regime was often unable to resist. Nationalist movements in Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, and to a lesser extent, today’s Romania, where populations were primarily Eastern Orthodox, also opened the way for the Romanovs to serve as protector of peoples whose faith the Russian dynasty shared.
   Franz Joseph and his foreign ministers managed to embarrass Russia twice in this role: once at the Congress of Berlin (1878), where participants trimmed back a newly advantaged position following a Bulgarian uprising against Ottoman rule, and again in 1908, when the Habsburgs annexed Bosnia, to the great distress of the kingdom of Serbia and its Russian advocate.
   It was Russia’s support of Serbia that brought it into World War I in 1914. Losses for both sides on the eastern front were enormous. Perhaps the high point of the entire conflict for the Habsburg Empire was the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 1918), which yielded a great swath of territory to be divided among the Central Powers at Russian expense. These arrangements, however, were of purely academic interest following the conflict that brought an end to both empires. The Communist Party of Austria, founded in 1918, drew much of its inspiration from the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. Austrian foreign policy initiatives toward the new Soviet Union were negligible, however, partly on ideological grounds, partly because of more pressing tasks. World War II, however, put the Soviet Union squarely in Austrian territory as part of the occupation. In the 10 years before the signing of the Austrian State Treaty, Vienna’s treatment of the Moscow regime was exquisitely circumspect. Popular experience of Soviet occupation, particularly in its zone, convinced Austrians that they did not want to be part of the Soviet bloc. But even after the State Treaty was in place, Austria’s eastern boundary abutted on Soviet satellites, and Vienna treated the Communists of Moscow cautiously and often deferentially. The Soviet Union was quick to block any serious signs of Austrian cooperation with the European Community (EEC/EC) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). In 1967, the Soviets would not allow Austria to join the European Common Market.
   Austria had other reasons to preserve good relations with the Soviet Union. It needed to reactivate trade with Eastern Europe generally. In 1956, Austria negotiated free passage down the Danube to the Black Sea with the Soviet Union. In 1960, Austria joined the Danube River Commission, a body completely dominated by the Communist Bloc. The only Western government represented in the group was the German Federal Republic, and only with observer status. Austria was also eager to have the Soviet Union as a market. In 1958, Vienna signed a set of protocols that expanded economic exchanges with Moscow. In 1979, Austria would be the first Western country to have free trade relations with the Soviet Union on the basis of completely convertible currencies. Austria also wanted to regain sovereignty over assets that the Soviets had commandeered during the occupation. After intense discussion, the Moscow government agreed in 1958 to reduce by 50 percent oil deliveries guaranteed to it in the State Treaty.
   The implosion of the Soviet Union in 1989 changed the tenor of Austrian–Russian relations dramatically. As it had done with Hungarian refugees in 1956 and their Czech counterparts in 1968, Austria opened its borders to East Germans fleeing to the West in 1989. This time, however, Moscow kept its armies at home. Indeed, as subsequent events showed that the Soviet government could not retain its territorial buffer in east central and southeastern Europe, Austria intensified its efforts to join the European Union (EU), a step that the Soviets would have once quickly challenged as a violation of Austria’s pledge of neutrality. Not until 1995, with Austria a member of the EU, did the Russian vice-minister of foreign affairs, Sergei Krylow, declare that Austria alone could determine the meaning of its neutrality in interstate relations. For its part, the Austrian foreign ministry recognized the new Russia as the legitimate successor of the Soviet Union, a measure that other members of the EU had taken one year earlier. Austria also promised to support Russian admission to the Council of Europe and relief from restrictions on trade many European countries had adopted on trade during the Cold War. Austrian and Russian foreign policies have since then differed sharply at crucial moments. Austria supported the military intervention of the United States in Kosovo in 1999; Russia, along with China, did not. Vitally interested in seeing a natural gas supply line run directly from the Caspian to central Europe without touching Russian territory, Austria, along with Great Britain, Sweden, and some of the former Soviet bloc countries, deplored Russian military incursions into Georgia in 2008. They made known their reservations about further integration of Russia into the EU. Some of the small states, most notably Lithuania, continued to oppose extensive EU cultivation of Russia. However, Benita-Ferrero Waldner (1948–), a one-time minister of foreign affairs for Austria who had become EU commissioner of external affairs in 2004, agreed in November 2008 that discussions with the Russians about economic, security, and energy matters should resume.
   See also Foreign Policy.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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