Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer says he asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to end his invasion of Ukraine and raised the issue of ‘serious war crimes’ committed by Russian troops
Nehammer was the first European leader to meet Putin in Moscow since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24.
In a statement after the meeting, the Austrian Chancellor said his main message to Putin in the “very direct, open and tough” talks was that “this war must end, because in a war both sides can only lose”.
Nehammer told Putin that all those responsible for war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha and elsewhere would be “held accountable”.
He also stressed the need to open humanitarian corridors so that civilians trapped in the towns under attack can access basic supplies like food and water, according to his statement.
The Austrian leader called the Moscow-to-Moscow trip his ‘duty’ to exhaust all avenues to end violence in Ukraine, coming just two days after he traveled to Kyiv for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Speaking at a press conference in Moscow, Nehammer said face-to-face talks to “look into each other’s eyes, discuss the horrors of war” could have a bigger long-term impact.
But he said he walked away from the meeting without much optimism that the war would end soon.
“It might need to be done 100 times,” Nehammer said of the reunion. “But I think it is necessary to do so, so that peace reigns again and the Ukrainian people can live in safety.”
Austria, a member of the European Union, has backed the 27-nation bloc’s sanctions against Russia, although it has so far opposed cutting off Russian gas supplies. The country is militarily neutral and is not a member of NATO.
But Nehammer and other Austrian officials have been keen to stress that military neutrality does not mean moral neutrality.
“We are militarily neutral, but have a clear position on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine,” Nehammer wrote on Twitter on Sunday, announcing his trip to Moscow. “It has to stop!
Nehammer said he told Putin that the EU was “as united as it has ever been” on the issue of sanctions, and that these will remain in place – and may even be tightened – as long as the Ukrainians will continue to die.
Earlier Monday, Austrian Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg said Nehammer decided to make the trip to Moscow after meeting Zelenskyy in kyiv and following contacts with Turkish, German and European leaders.
Schallenberg said ahead of a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg that it was an effort to “seize every chance to end the humanitarian hell” in Ukraine.
He added that “every voice that clearly explains to President Putin what reality looks like outside the Kremlin walls is not a lost voice.”