Anger as Vladimir Putin travels to Austria as guest at Austrian foreign minister’s wedding
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, will meet Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, on Saturday for talks about conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline – but not before stopping off to be a surprise guest at a wedding in Austria.
Mr Putin will attend the wedding of the country’s foreign minister, Karin Kneissl, to entrepreneur Wolfgang Meilinger at a vineyard in Styria state.
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Ms Kneissl is an independent but was selected for the post by Austria’s far-Right Freedom Party, which is a partner in the government.
Mr Putin was invited to the ceremony during a visit to Austria earlier this year and the country’s media has been buzzing with excitement since the Kremlin confirmed he would be attending earlier this week.
But opposition parties have expressed their anger at Mr Putin’s presence at a time when relations between the EU and Russia are on a knife edge.
"How is Austria’s presidency of the EU meant to live up to the government’s own claims of building bridges and being an honest broker, when Austria’s foreign minister and chancellor are so obviously on one side?" asked Andreas Schieder, an MP of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe).
Evelyn Regner, SPOe MEP, said the invitation sent a "shameful" image of Austria to its EU partners, branding it "a provocation of European proportions".
And the Greens called for Ms Kneissl’s resignation, pointing out that "Vladimir Putin is the EU’s most aggressive enemy in matters of foreign policy".
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Mr Putin’s visit was originally described as a "private event" by Ms Kneissl’s office but has since been upgraded to a "working visit".
Several hundred police officers will take part in the security operation around the wedding.
For her part, Mrs Merkel warned on Friday against expecting too much from her discussions with Mr Putin at the government’s Meseberg palace, but said the two countries needed to remain in "permanent dialogue" on the long list of problems they face.
"It’s a working meeting from which no specific results are expected," she told reporters. The two leaders last met in Sochi in May and struggled to overcome differences.