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Putin to attend Austrian foreign minister's wedding

Putin to attend Austrian foreign minister's wedding

Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl has sparked controversy by inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to her wedding on Saturday.

Kneissl is marrying entrepreneur Wolfgang Meilinger at a winery in the state of Styria. She has only known Putin for a few months but nonetheless invited him to the ceremony.

Putin plans to bring a 10-member group of singing Don Cossacks as a wedding present.

Kneissl, a political independent, originally described his attendance as a "private event" but this has since been upgraded to a "working visit."

Putin will attend alongside about 100 other guests, including conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and far-right Vice Chancellor Heinz Christian Strache.

Read more: Make Austria Great Again — the rapid rise of Sebastian Kurz

'EU's most aggressive enemy'

Opposition politicians have slammed the invitation as a provocation.

"How is Austria's presidency of the European Union meant to live up to the government's own claims of building bridges [between the EU and Russia] and being an honest broker, when Austria's foreign minister and chancellor are so obviously on one side?" said MP Andreas Schieder of the opposition Social Democrats (SPÖ).

Evelyn Regner, an SPÖ member of European Parliament, said the invite sent a "shameful" image of Austria to its EU partners, calling it "a provocation of European proportions".

The Greens called for Kneissl's resignation, saying "Vladimir Putin is the EU's most aggressive enemy in matters of foreign policy."

Read more: War and fuel: Angela Merkel's headaches in Russia talks

Ukraine bans Austria from talks

The issue has particularly angered Ukraine, who has now barred Austria from taking part in the Minsk agreements aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

"If you invite Vladimir Putin to your wedding, you are not neutral anymore," tweeted Ukrainian legislator Hanna Hopko, who chairs the parliament's foreign affairs committee. "From now on, Austria can't be a mediator in Ukraine. Period."

Austria has long maintained closer ties to Russia than the rest of the EU has. It is one of the few European countries that did not evict Russian diplomats after the poisoning of a double agent in Britain. The Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), the junior member in Austria's governing coalition, has called for the EU to drop its sanctions on Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea.

Following the wedding celebration, Putin will travel to Germany to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday evening. They will discuss the conflicts in Syria and eastern Ukraine for the second time in three months. They will also cover the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which the US has heavily criticized.

Read more: Austria's vice-chancellor urges end to EU Russia sanctions

aw/sms (dpa, AFP, AP)