Austrian far-right MPs walk out during Zelensky speech

Far-right MPs have walked out of Austria’s parliament during a speech by Ukrainian Preisdent Volodymyr Zelensky, protesting that it violated the country’s neutrality.

Mr Zelensky addressed the chamber via video link on Thursday, thanking Austria for its humanitarian aid and help with projects such as clearing land mines.

He also invited MPs to travel to Ukraine to see the widespread destruction caused by Russia since its invasion in February 2022.

The president of Austria’s lower house of parliament, Wolfgang Sobotka, pledged more financial and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine and said the country deserved Austria’s solidarity.

But MPs of the pro-Russia Freedom Party (FPO) walked out of the chamber and left small placards on their desks featuring the party logo and either “space for neutrality” or “space for peace”.

Austria says its neutrality prevents it from military involvement in the conflict and while it supports Ukraine politically it cannot send the country weapons in its fight against the Russian invasion.

Austria’s “permanent neutrality” has been part of its constitution since 1955. It means the country cannot hold membership in a military alliance, have no permanent deployment of foreign troops and no participation in foreign wars.

The Freedom Party had warned days before that it would hold some form of protest against Mr Zelensky’s address.

“It is sad that the FPO is the only party in parliament that takes our ever-lasting neutrality seriously, thereby also standing up for peace,” leader Herbert Kickl said in a statement on Tuesday.

Of the five parties in parliament, the FPO has the third-biggest number of seats in the lower house.

It currently has a slight lead in opinion polls over the opposition Social Democrats and Chancellor Karl Nehammer’s conservatives, who govern in coalition with the left-wing Greens.

The Freedom Party has sparked criticism in the past for its pro-Russian stance. In 2018, when the FPO’s Karin Kneissl was foreign minister, she danced with President Vladimir Putin at her wedding.

The current parliament runs until autumn of next year.