Austria’s Bridge-building & the Three Seas Initiative

Velina Tchakarova is the Director of the Austrian Institute for European and Security Policy (AIES) and an instructor at the Real World Risk Institute (RWRI). You may follow her on Twitter @vtchakarova. Livia Benko is a Research Fellow at AIES. This essay first appeared in a publication entitled “Three Seas Initiative: Mapping National Perspectives,” edited by Andris Sprüds and Mãrtiņš Vargulis, and published by the Latvian Institute of International Affairs.


RUSSIA’S war on Ukraine has made the role of the Three Seas Initiative (3SI) more pivotal than ever before, as the security of Central and Eastern European (CEE) energy, transportation and digital infrastructure became a geostrategic matter. Against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, Russia has been striving to become an indispensable power, without which neither the United States nor China would be able to win the system competition against each other in the future. To achieve this, Moscow seeks to extinguish Kyiv and the Ukrainian state in order to build and consolidate a geopolitical “sphere of influence” based on a union between Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, which would help Moscow become a major
player with significant power projection in Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Eurasia. If Russian President Vladimir Putin manages to subjugate Ukraine, this would fulfil Russia’s geopolitical ambitions to revive a post-imperial state as a great power with a significantly improved position in global politics while abolishing the European security order from the last 30 years.

Given the changing geopolitical realities, Austria occupies a unique position within the 3SI because of its geographic location as well as historic background. The Alpine republic has often pursued a bridge-building approach between the traditional members in Western Europe and the new members of the European Union from the former Soviet bloc in the CEE. In fact, Austria is the only 3SI member that was not part of the Warsaw Pact or Yugoslavia during the Cold War, and thus plays an exceptional role within the framework of the initiative. In this context, Vienna is regarded as a spoiler but also a multiplier of the 3SI synergy effects depending on its future role and contribution.

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