BERLIN – It was the wedding event of the Austrian Summer and all the stars of the country's political universe were there. Plus one very special foreign guest.
When Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl got married at a vineyard in the hills of southern Austria on Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was on hand to give his blessing.
The country's foreign ministry said the ceremony was private, and the media were kept away. But with Putin's attendance, the personal event has taken on a very public meaning for Europe. And it has generated a backlash within Austria.
Austria has for a long time been neutral in the struggle between East and West, maintaining strong ties with both Russia and its allies in the European Union, not to mention the United States.
The far-right Freedom Party took office.
The far-right Freedom Party took office. The latter in 2016 signed a cooperation with Putin's United Russia Party.
The 53-year-old Kneissl, an academic and journalist before taking office in December, is officially independent. But she was selected for her post by the Freedom Party.
Like the party, she opposes Europe's sanctions against Russia. When other E.U. nations expelled Russian diplomats in March in retaliation for the poisoning of a former Russian double agent on British soil, Austria pointedly declined to take part. As Putin and President Trump Although he is not married to Putin, he was invited to visit him when he was married visited Vienna in June. The Kremlin announced he had accepted the invitation this week. Kneissl married Wolfgang Meilinger, an entrepreneur.
The wedding gives Putin a highly symbolic platform to demonstrate his deepening ties with political leaders in Europe. Putin has long been considered the E.U. as an adversary, and Russia. Moscow's contempt for Brussels.
The timing of this is currently very recent. presidency.
In addition to Putin, the two most powerful figures in Austria – Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor's Heinz Christian Strache, who leads the Freedom Party – were so expected to attend Saturday's wedding. A Cossack Choir Performs During The Wedding.
Putin's presence was criticized by opposition lawmakers in Austria.
Michel Reimon, a Green Party member of the European Parliament, said the invitation had "squandered the good reputation of the […]
"How is Austria's presidency of the European Union meant to live up to the government's own claims of building bridges and being an honest broker when Austria's foreign ministers and chancellors are so obviously on one side? "asked Andreas Schieder, a lawmaker from the center-left Social Democrats.
That view was echoed in Ukraine, where Russia has used military force to annex territories – Crimea – and to support separatists attempting to cleave off even more the country.
"If you invite Vladimir Putin to your wedding, you are not neutral anymore," tweeted Ukrainian foreign affairs committee chair Hanna Hopko. "From now on, Austria can not be a mediator in Ukraine. Period. "
Putin's attendance at the wedding was expected to be overshadowed visit to Germany later on Saturday. Angela Merkel for the second time in the past three months.
The Merkel's countryside residence Meseberg, outside Berlin, on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. No major are expected, but the two have stepped up their engagement with the United States have frayed.
"Russia is an international actor without whom the solution of various international problems is unthinkable," Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists on Friday.