Austrian Chancellor says meeting with Putin was ‘not a friendly visit’

Austrian Chancellor held ‘very direct, open and tough’ talks with her Russian counterpart in Moscow on Monday, marking Vladimir Putin’s first meeting with an EU leader since his forces invaded Ukraine more than a year ago. six weeks.

Austria currently gets 80% of its natural gas from Russia and has previously maintained closer ties with Moscow than the majority of the bloc.

But following Russia’s declaration of war on its neighbor on February 24, Chancellor Karl Nehammer expressed solidarity with Ukraine and denounced apparent Russian war crimes.

His government has also joined other EU countries in expelling the oligarchs from Moscow, although those expelled represent only a small part of the large Russian diplomatic presence there.

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“This is not a friendly visit,” Nehammer said, according to a statement released by his government office shortly after the meeting at Putin’s official residence in Novo-Ogaryovo, outside Moscow.

A spokesman for the chancellor said the meeting lasted 75 minutes, which is relatively short by the Russian president’s standards.

The Austrian leader reiterated previous comments that he had hoped to end the conflict or improve humanitarian corridors for Ukrainians trapped in their besieged towns.

But the statement released by his office offered little response from President Putin.

“The conversation with President Putin was very direct, open and tough,” Nehammer said in the statement.

Addressing a press conference this evening, Mr Nehammer said it was important to tell Putin to his face that his views were not shared by other countries and that the longer the war lasted, the greater the sanctions Western forces against Russia would become harsh.

“[Telling him] once will not be enough. Ten times will not be enough. It may have to be done 100 times, but I think it is necessary to do everything so that peace returns and Ukrainians can live in safety,” Nehammer said.

Mr Nehammer’s meeting with his Russian counterpart was welcomed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, while Austrian reaction included surprise, skepticism and condemnation.

Tweeting on Monday, Professor of Austrian Comparative Politics at the University of Salzburg, Reinhard Heinisch, said: “Let’s hope there is more to Austrian Chancellor #Nehammer’s visit to Putin than what was said and what the ‘we see. Austria has too often played the role of Moscow’s useful idiot in the past.

Mr Nehammer’s coalition partner, the Greens, also criticized the visit. His foreign affairs spokeswoman, Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic, wrote on Twitter: “I cannot tolerate a visit to Putin. It has nothing to do with diplomacy. Nor is it an agreed roadmap for the negotiations. Putin will use it for his propaganda.

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