Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer said he raised alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine during a “tough” and unfriendly meeting Monday with Vladimir Putin – the first Western sit-down with the Russian President since he launched his invasion in February.
“This is not a friendly visit. I have just come from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression,” Nehammer was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office after the meeting outside Moscow.
Nehammer is the first European leader to meet with Putin face-to-face since his invasion of Ukraine. His visit divided opinion among EU leaders, with some expressing skepticism about engaging with the Russian leader.
The pair spoke for about 75 minutes at Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow, Nehammer’s spokesperson said, in talks the Austrian leader described as “very direct, open and tough.”
Before visiting Russia, Nehammer met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv and visited the town of Bucha, where bodies of unarmed civilians were found strewn across public streets after a month of Russian occupation.
”I addressed the serious war crimes in Bucha and other places and emphasized that all those responsible for them must be held accountable,” Nehammer said, according to the statement. “I also told President Putin in no uncertain terms that sanctions against Russia will remain in place and will continue to be tightened as long as people are dying in Ukraine.”
Austria is militarily neutral but its government has joined its neighbors in condemning Putin’s invasion.
The Chancellor said he raised the issue of evacuation corridors with Putin, after repeated instances in which attempted evacuations around Ukraine have been scuppered by Russian attacks. Ukrainian officials said a Russian strike on Kramatorsk train station on Friday killed dozens of people, including several children.
“I also made it clear to the Russian President that there is an urgent need for humanitarian corridors to bring drinking water and food to the besieged cities and to bring out women, children and the wounded,” Nehammer said in his statement.
Nehammer cited “a sense of responsibility to leave no stone unturned” as a reason for seeking the meeting with Putin, saying: “For me, there is no alternative to seeking direct talks with Russia as well, despite all the very great differences.”
Ahead of their talks, Lithuania’s Foreign Minister cast doubt on their effectiveness, saying of the Russian leader: “I personally have no reason to believe that he’s talkable.”
Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs Jan Lipavsky also urged Nehammer to be wary. “Don’t be naive. Putin is a perpetrator of this horrendous war crime and those atrocities, and he should be punished for that,” he said.
Nehammer’s statement said the European Union was “more united than ever on this issue.”
Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Sunday it would be “extremely difficult” to even think about negotiations with Russia following the atrocities committed in the town of Bucha and at the train station in Kramatorsk.
Putin appointed a new general to oversee his invasion over the weekend, and the focus of Russia’s forces has turned towards eastern Ukraine after their failure to seize the capital, Kyiv, and other territories in the center of the country.
Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: The Bloggers Briefing