Austrian chancellor pessimistic about peace talks after meeting Putin

Austrian chancellor says he is ‘rather pessimistic’ about peace talks after becoming first European leader to meet Putin face-to-face following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

  • Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer has become the first European leader to meet Putin in Moscow following his visit to Bucha over the weekend
  • The Chancellor said he was ‘rather pessimistic’ about the chances for diplomacy
  • There is little interest from the Russians in a direct meeting with Zelensky
  • But Putin remained interested in the Istanbul peace talks, said the Chancellor 
  • Foreign minister Schallenberg said ‘we don’t want to leave any opportunity unused and must seize every chance to end the humanitarian hell in Ukraine’

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Monday said he was ‘rather pessimistic’ about the chances of diplomacy after being the first European leader to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin since the start of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

Describing Putin as having ‘massively entered into a logic of war’, Nehammer told reporters: ‘If you’re asking me whether I am optimistic or pessimistic, I’m rather pessimistic.’

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

However, he said he spoke to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz after the meeting and said he had impressed on them the ‘need for more such meetings’ to directly express European outrage at Russia’s actions.

While Nehammer said there was ‘very little interest on the Russian side in a direct meeting’ with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, he said the one glimmer of hope was Putin’s continued interest in the Istanbul peace talks.

 Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer became the first European leader to meet Vladimir Putin on Monday after planning a closed-door face-to-face with the Russian president

In an earlier statement Nehammer had said his meeting between the two men, which took place at Putin’s residence outside Moscow, was not ‘a visit of friendship’.

Nehammer described the conversation as ‘direct, open and hard’.

The Austrian government had requested the meeting be held behind closed doors with no joint pictures or statements from the two leaders.

‘I mentioned the serious war crimes in Bucha and other locations and stressed that all those responsible have to be brought to justice,’ Nehammer said.

Russia denies its forces have committed war crimes.

On the topic of sanctions Nehammer said he had ‘told President Putin very clearly that the sanctions will remain and be intensified as long as people keep dying in Ukraine’.

Nehammer also told Putin of the ‘urgent’ need for humanitarian corridors ‘to bring water and food into besieged towns and (to) remove women, children and the injured’.

‘I will now inform our European partners about the conversation and discuss further steps,’ he said.

Nehammer’s trip to Moscow followed a visit to Kyiv on Saturday where he held talks with Zelensky.

The first European leader to meet Russian President Putin since he launched the war on Ukraine said previously it will be ‘good to tell him’ that ‘he has lost this war’. 

He decided on the trip after meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday to ‘show solidarity within the framework of Austria’s neutrality’, a statement from the chancellor’s office said.

The visit is not an EU-mandated trip, but the chancellor is said to have informed key EU leaders beforehand. 

Austria’s foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg said the meeting, which will be one-on-one without media opportunities, is meant to tell the Russian president the truth about the war in Ukraine.

He says the Chancellor is taking ‘very clear messages of a humanitarian and political kind’ to a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. 

Nehammer believed it was necessary to ‘leave no stone unturned’ in trying to alleviate the brutal conditions faced by Ukrainians and is taking a ‘very clear political message’, Schallenberg added, and said that Putin is ‘doing everything wrong that can be done wrong’.

‘It makes a difference to be face to face and tell him what the reality is, that this president has de facto lost the war morally’, Schallenberg said upon his arrival for a meeting with EU counterparts in Luxembourg. 

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is set to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday following his visit to the war-torn Bucha over the weekend (pictured), as well as having spoken to the leaders of Turkey, Germany and the European Union

‘It should be in his own interest that someone tells him the truth. I think it is important and we owe it to ourselves if we want to save human lives.’     

Schallenberg said ahead of a meeting with his EU counterparts in Luxembourg that ‘we don’t want to leave any opportunity unused and must seize every chance to end the humanitarian hell in Ukraine.’

He added that ‘every voice that makes clear to President Putin what reality looks like outside the walls of Kremlin is not a wasted voice.’ 

He insisted that Austria has done everything to ensure that the visit isn’t abused, ‘and I think he [Putin] himself should have an interest in someone telling him the truth and really finding out what’s going on outside.’

Nehammer will also push for ‘humanitarian corridors’ to evacuate civilians trapped in places such as the besieged city of Mariupol, and for ‘international humanitarian organisations to be able to conduct their work, the foreign minister said.

Austria’s foreign minister Alexander Schallenberg said the meeting, which will be one-on-one without media opportunities, is meant to tell the Russian president, pictured on April 5, the truth about the war in Ukraine

Austria’s top diplomat said he was ‘extremely shocked’ by the crimes being discovered in Ukraine. 

He and other foreign ministers met with the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, early Monday. He said he stressed the need to hold all of those responsible to account: ‘There cannot be anybody outside or above the law, not even the president.’

Nehammer was also expected to raise alleged war crimes in Bucha and other devastated areas around Kyiv, where Ukrainian authorities say more than 1,200 bodies were found after Russian forces withdrew.

Moscow denies accusations its troops committed war crimes in Ukraine.  

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