Putin at the wedding
Politics does, indeed, make strange bedfellows. Until a year ago, no one could have thought Moscow would respond to friendly overtures from rightists or the other way round. With the European Union stuck to its stand on Russia, it would have been unthinkable for any camaraderie out in the open between the two. But a lot has happened in the last one year and rightists have gained significant ground both in Austria and Germany. Equations have changed as have relations. So, Russian President Vladimir Putin was a surprise guest at the Austrian foreign minister's wedding, in a move that opposition politicians say undermines the European Union's position on Moscow. But whose "guest" was he, really? He did not gatecrash, for sure. Putin dropped in on Karin Kneissl's wedding in a remote area of southern Austria, on his way to a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in neighboring Germany. The Russian president was pictured dancing with Kneissl, who was dressed in a traditional "dirndl" dress, in a vineyard in Styria province. Putin arrived with a bouquet of flowers and even brought a Cossack choir with him to entertain the bride and her groom, the entrepreneur Wolfgang Meilinger, according to Russian state-run news agency TASS. But the invitation came under fire from some Austrian opposition politicians, who said it undermined the EU's foreign policy on Russia. The EU rolled out a raft of sanctions against Russia in 2014, in response to its occupation, and then annexation, of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine. Added to this, was the expulsion of Russian diplomats from many EU countries earlier this year. That move was a response to British allegations of Kremlin involvement in the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury in March. Austria, which is led by Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the Austrian People's Party (OVP) in a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), was one of the few EU countries not to follow suit and expel Russian diplomats. Kurz was also photographed at the wedding. The FPO has a cooperation agreement with Putin's United Russia party, according to sources. Joerg Leichtfried, from the opposition Social Democrats party, criticised the foreign minister for inviting Putin, particularly given Austria's current presidency of the Council of the European Union. Leichtfried said in a statement it was "all the more symbolic and harmful to court the Russian president in this manner." Leichtfried added that he and other members of parliament had a list of inquiries for the foreign minister over this "working visit." Not so curiously, Foreign Minister Kneissl is not known to have a particularly close friendship with Putin. And, therein, perhaps, lies a tale.