Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer flew to Moscow on Monday and met with Russian President Vladimir Putin to talk and discuss the ongoing war in Ukraine. Nehammer reportedly confronted Putin about Russia’s alleged war crimes and called to end the war.

“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 saying.

“I mentioned the serious war crimes in Bucha and other locations and stressed that all those responsible have to be brought to justice,” he added.

The Austrian Chancellor is the first European leader to visit Putin after the latter began the invasion of Ukraine in February. His meeting with the Russian leader drew mixed opinions among the European Union, with some casting doubt on the effectiveness of having talks with Putin.

The meeting lasted for about 75 minutes at Putin’s official Novo-Ogaryovo residence just outside of Moscow. Nehammer described his conversation with the Russian president as “very direct, open, and tough.”

Before his trip to Moscow, Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv. Nehammer also made a stop in the city of Bucha, which was featured in recent headlines as dead and mutilated bodies of civilians were found on the streets after the Russians left the area.

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv (Chancellor Karl Nehammer/Twitter)

“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. “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.”

The Austrian Chancellor also brought up the need for humanitarian corridors that would allow much-needed supplies to reach civilians and provide a chance for non-combatants to flee the fighting.

Nehammer claims his trip to Moscow was part of his duty to explore every option to stop the violence in Ukraine. Despite his efforts, it is expected that Russia will attack the Donbas region to try and expel any Ukrainian authority left in the region.

“For me, there is no alternative to seeking direct talks with Russia as well, despite all the very great differences.”

A Tough Nut to Crack

Nehammer said he is “rather pessimistic” on the current chances of diplomacy ending the war in Ukraine, adding that Putin has “massively entered into a logic of war.”

“Peace talks are always very time-intensive while military logic says: ‘Don’t spend too much time and go directly into battle,'” he said.

Nonetheless, the Austrian leader maintains his belief that it is important to confront Putin “with the facts” and keep trust in the capacity of diplomacy despite the low chances of it working.

: President of Russia Vladimir Putin addresses participants in third phase of United Russia party 20th congress (kremlin.ru, CC BY 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Putin_2021.jpg
President of Russia Vladimir Putin addresses participants in the third phase of United Russia party 20th congress. He met with Nehammer behind closed doors. (kremlin.ruCC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

“Of course, when you talk to him for the first, second, third time, we can’t expect him to change his view… I didn’t expect that. But it is important to confront President Vladimir Putin. Every day is a day too long in the war, every… death is one too many,” Nehammer explained. “What is important is a personal meeting. Phoning is one thing, but you really need to look each other in the eye. You need to talk about the cruelty of war,” he added.

A silver lining, according to Nehammer, was the “clear and recognizable” confidence of Putin in the ongoing negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv held in Turkey.

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Nehammer and Austria’s Stance

Austria is one of the few EU countries not part of NATO. It has supported the bloc’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion and the sanctions imposed on the country. However, it has opposed cutting off energy imports from Russia, where it gets 80% of its natural gas. The country also claims to be militarily neutral.

This premise drew the attention of skeptics, who doubted the purpose and intent of the Chancellor’s visit.

“Let’s hope there is more to the Austrian Chancellor Nehammer’s visit to Putin than has been said and meets the eye. Austria has all too often served the role of Moscow’s useful idiot in the past,” Austrian politics professor from the University of Salzburg Reinhard Heinisch said on Twitter.

Nehammer’s coalition partner, the Greens, went as far as to condemn the move to talk to Putin.

“I cannot condone a visit to Putin,” the Member of the Austrian Parliament and Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic, wrote on Twitter. “This has nothing to do with diplomacy. This is also not an agreed roadmap for negotiations. Putin will use this for his propaganda.”

Nehammer and other Austrian politicians insist that military neutrality does not imply moral neutrality, he explained.

“We are militarily neutral but have a clear position on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine,” Nehammer wrote on Twitter as he announced his trip to Moscow. “It must stop!”