Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer held “direct, open and tough” talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, in a visit that drew mixed European reactions including surprise, skepticism and condemnation.
Nehammer is the first European Union leader to meet Putin since he ordered his troops to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24.
While Austria generally maintains closer ties to Moscow than much of the European Union – that has not been the case recently.
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Nehammer has expressed solidarity with Ukraine over the Russian invasion and denounced apparent Russian war crimes there, while his government has joined other EU countries in expelling Russian diplomats, albeit only a fraction of the large Russian diplomatic presence there.
In a statement after the meeting, Nehammer said the discussion with Putin was “very direct, open and tough.” He added that his most important message from him to Putin was that the war in Ukraine must end because “in a war there are only losers on both sides.”
A spokesman for Nehammer said on Monday afternoon that the meeting went ahead at Putin’s official Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow.
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Austrian media including newspaper Kronen Zeitung said it had ended after about 90 minutes.
“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,” professor of comparative Austrian politics at the University of Salzburg Reinhard Heinisch wrote on Twitter.
Conservative Nehammer’s coalition partner, the left-wing Greens, went even further by criticizing the visit, while Germany welcomed the talks.
“I cannot condone a visit to Putin,” the Greens’ foreign affairs spokesperson Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic said 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.”
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Having been visibly moved by telephone conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Nehammer visited Ukraine on Saturday to show “political support” for Kyiv.
Confirming his visit to Moscow on Sunday, Nehammer referred to the invasion of Ukraine as “the Russian war of aggression” and called for an end to the conflict as well as a ceasefire and humanitarian corridors.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson)