Nehammer is the only European leader to meet in person with the Russian president since the beginning of the war
The traditional neutral role of Austria, which is not a member of NATO, in its relations with Moscow and the close ties between the two countries since 1953 have made it possible for President Vladimir Putin to accept Vienna’s proposal to hold a meeting in person on Ukraine with Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer.
The meeting lasted this Monday a little less than an hour and a half and took place in the palace that Putin has in Novo Ogariovo, on the outskirts of Moscow, in whose basements is the bunker that, according to the Russian media, has long maintained, it serves the highest Russian leader to keep himself isolated and safe from the madding crowd.
The meeting, held two days after Nehammer met in kyiv with the Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski, and was able to see Bucha’s horror in the first person, took place this Monday, according to the words of the Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri Peskov, “in a format closed, without the usual protocol photos and without a joint press conference or final statement to the media. Peskov assured that “the Austrian side wanted it that way.” Furthermore, since Putin speaks German, no translators or advisers from either side were present at the talks. It was an interview of the two alone.
Nehammer stated shortly after in a press conference that the dialogue with his Russian interlocutor was “direct and tough”. “It was not a friendly visit,” he added. In his words, “I mentioned the serious war crimes in Bucha and other locations and stressed that those responsible must be brought to justice.”
“I do not have an optimistic impression that I can inform you about this conversation with President Putin. The offensive – in Donbass – is obviously being prepared on a large scale,” stressed the Austrian foreign minister, who said he had also warned Putin that the sanctions would continue “as long as people continue to die in Ukraine.”
The Austrian leader has already advanced through Twitter that his intention was to discuss with the Russian president, whose responsibility in the beginning of the invasion of the territory of Ukraine falls completely on his shoulders as, according to the Russian Constitution, the Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Armed Forces, the possibility of decreeing “a ceasefire, organizing humanitarian corridors and promoting the investigation of war crimes” committed during the current military intervention.
He wrote on Twitter that his country is “militarily neutral, but we have a clear position on Russia’s aggressive war against Ukraine” and urged Putin to “stop”. Before flying to Moscow, Nehammer informed Zelensky of his intention to speak with the Russian president, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
If in the more than month and a half of the conflict Putin has personally received only Nehammer, his Ukrainian counterpart has done so with a multitude of heads of state and government from different countries such as Poland, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia, as well as as with the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell.
Asked why the media were not allowed to adequately cover Putin and Nehammer’s meeting, Peskov said on Monday that “they have dealt with the situation around Ukraine. All other questions, perhaps, would be better put to the Austrian side.” One of those issues, said the spokesman for the Russian Presidency, “is probably the question of gas and its payment in rubles, something very, very relevant for Austria.”
In Vienna it is assumed that the mission of its chancellor is one of “risk”. In particular, the German newspaper Bild quotes a Ukrainian diplomat who has been highly skeptical of Nehammer’s visit to Moscow, noting that “to what extent is the Austrian chancellor confident in seriously believing that such a trip now makes any sense?” after the atrocities observed.
Relations between Moscow and Vienna were shaken by the “ibizagate” corruption scandal in May 2019, caused by a video that ended the political career of Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, ended up bringing down the coalition government and evicting from power to Sebastian Kurz. Since then, the good harmony staged in 2018 at the wedding of the then Foreign Minister, Karin Kneissl, dancing with Putin, who attended as the main guest, has not fully recovered.
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