Karl Nehammer: The Austrian Chancellor will meet with Putin in the midst of a European offensive to expand sanctions | International
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The Austrian chancellor, the conservative Karl Nehammer, announced this Sunday that he will travel to Moscow on Monday to meet with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. The announcement comes a day after the Austrian head of government visited kyiv and met there with the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelensky, and went to the town of Bucha, northwest of the capital, which has become a symbol of the atrocities of the Russian invader. The visit to Moscow will take place in the midst of a European offensive to extend sanctions on Russia, with oil in the spotlight.
Nehammer is the first leader of a European Union partner to travel to Moscow since the start of the war. Others, such as the French president, Emmanuel Macron, or the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, have spoken by telephone with Putin after the attack on the former Soviet republic, but have not visited Moscow. According to the foreign minister, the visit intends to open a dialogue between the parties –before Nehammer, the Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, also tried it with a trip to Moscow at the beginning of March– and also to address the accusations of war crimes against Russia as a result of massacres such as the one in Bucha or the Kramatorsk station.
“Tomorrow I will meet with Vladimir Putin in Moscow. We are militarily neutral, but we have a clear position on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. It must stop! Humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire and a full investigation of war crimes are needed,” Nehammer wrote on his Twitter account.
As he has commented to the Austrian media, the initiative of the meeting is his and the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the president of the Council, Charles Michel, who visited kyiv on Friday, have been informed. The Austrian leader’s trip has also been reported to Zelensky, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has hosted talks between Russia and Ukraine. The chancellor affirms that he wants to do “everything possible” to stop the war, although he has admitted that the chances of achieving any progress are minimal.
The meeting announced by the leader of the Austrian Conservatives closes a week marked by images of Bucha’s horror, of civilians murdered in the streets and some with their hands tied behind their backs, and of corpses scattered around the Kramatorsk train station, in the east of the country, attacked in full evacuation of inhabitants of the locality. Precisely after the Bucha massacre was disclosed, the European Union approved the first energy sanctions against Russia, with a total embargo on coal. In addition, it is already preparing to increase the punishment to Moscow by closing the tap on Russian oil.
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Some German media outlets and at least one Ukrainian official criticized Nehammer’s decision to meet with Putin. Sergei Orlov, deputy mayor of besieged Mariupol, told the German newspaper bild that such a visit is unacceptable at this time. “The war crimes that Russia is committing right now on Ukrainian soil are still taking place,” Orlov said on television. “I don’t understand how you can have a conversation with Putin at this point.”
On Saturday, in a statement on the occasion of his visit to kyiv, the Austrian chancellor stressed: “It is important that, within the framework of our neutrality, we support Ukraine both in humanitarian and political terms.” Austria is a member of the EU, but not of NATO. “What is happening in Ukraine is a terrible war of aggression against the civilian population,” he added.
In kyiv, the Christian Democrat had to fit in comments and questions about Austria’s rejection of possible sanctions on Russian gas, an opposition led by Viktor Orbán’s Hungary. Nehammer pointed out that stopping buying Russian gas, on which Austria is highly dependent, would have serious economic consequences for his country, while insisting that Vienna is not neutral when it comes to denouncing Putin’s invasion and pointing out war crimes. In a joint press conference with Zelensky, the Austrian chancellor maintained that the EU will impose more sanctions against Russia to end the war and gave as an example the possibility of prohibiting the shipment of technical parts used in military aircraft.
In this regard, Zelensky assured that every dollar and every euro that arrives in Russia for purchases from abroad “is used for war.” Austria is one of the European countries, with Germany and Hungary, reluctant to stop buying Russian gas. The Ukrainian president thanked the Austrian help, which does not include military material. Nehammer announced that his country will deliver 20 rescue vehicles and 10 fire trucks, as well as more fuel, to Ukraine.
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