Austrian chancellor leaves to visit Ukraine

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Friday left to travel to Kyiv, according to his office, one of the first EU leaders to visit Ukraine after images of corpses in the town of Bucha came to light.

Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer walks past an Austrian flag wearing a mask. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP
Austrian chancellor Karl Nehammer walks past an Austrian flag wearing a mask. Photo: JOE KLAMAR / AFP

“Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer left this evening for his visit to Ukraine,” the chancellory said in a statement.

Nehammer indicated earlier in the week he would visit Ukraine.

READ MORE: Austria’s Nehammer to visit Zelensky in Ukraine

Nehammer’s visit comes as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visited Bucha on Friday on a trip to Ukraine along with the bloc’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell.

Nehammer is expected to travel to Bucha, near Kyiv, on Saturday, according to a statement from his office.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky has accused Russian troops of being behind the killings in the town, but the Kremlin has denied any responsibility and suggested images of corpses were “fakes”.

“Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer left this evening for his visit to Ukraine with a delegation and media representatives,” the chancellory said.

Besides visiting Bucha, Nehammer is planning to meet Zelensky followed by a press conference and a meeting with Prime Minister Denys Shmygal on Saturday.

He is also planning to meet Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko before returning later Saturday.

“It is important that, within the framework of our neutrality, we support Ukraine on both a humanitarian and a political level,” Nehammer said in a statement.

“What is happening in Ukraine, and in particular in many cities of Ukraine, is a terrible war of aggression against the civilian population,” he said.

He said that independent and international experts should get to the bottom of “the war crimes that have come to light”.

“Those responsible for these crimes must and will be held accountable,” he said. Violence in the town of Bucha, where authorities say hundreds were killed — including some found with their hands bound — has become a byword for allegations of brutality inflicted under Russian occupation.

The Czech, Polish and Slovenian prime ministers visited Kyiv on March 15, before Russian troops withdrew from around the capital, in the first trip by European Union leaders since the start of the Russian invasion on February 24.

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REVEALED: What is Austria’s emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

Amid fears about what would happen if gas supplies to Austria were disrupted, the Federal Government has put together a package of measures to create a strategic gas reserve.

REVEALED: What is Austria's emergency plan if Russia cuts gas supply?

It has been well reported that Austria is heavily reliant on Russian natural gas – but what would happen if supplies were suspended or stopped altogether?

Austria sources 80 percent of its gas from Russia, so the country would be seriously impacted if supplies were disrupted due to the war in Ukraine, a breakdown of diplomatic relations or any other unforeseen event. 

This is why the Federal Government has now unveiled a package of measures to protect Austria’s gas reserves in the event of an energy emergency.

READ MORE: ‘An unprecedented situation’: How would a gas embargo impact Austria?

What is in the package?

Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler and Finance Minister Magnus Brunner presented the plans following a meeting in the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, May 18th.

The most important points include an increase of the strategic gas reserve by 7.4 terawatt hours (TWh) to 20 TWh. This would cover Austria’s gas consumption for two winter months but the additional gas would not be sourced from Russia, according to the Kronen Zeitung

Gewessler said: “This measure will significantly reduce dependence on Russian gas.”

Increasing the strategic reserve with non-Russian supplies will reduce Austria’s dependence on Russian gas to 70 percent, Gewessler added.

Additionally, gas storage facilities located in Austria – such as the Haidach facility in Salzburg – must be connected to the Austrian gas grid. Haidach, which is supplied by Gasprom, is currently only connected to Germany’s pipeline network and has not been refilled for some time.

Finally, any unused gas in company storage facilities should be surrendered to the government if needed. Companies will be financially compensated for this.

READ ALSO: Austrian Economy Minister says gas embargo would be ‘red line’

What about next winter?

Federal Chancellor Karl Nehammer has already said that gas storage facilities in Austria have to be 80 percent full before the next autumn and winter season.

The storage level is currently at 26 percent, reports Der Standard.

Gewessler also appealed to the Austrian public to make changes to help reduce the dependence on gas for energy, calling for more gas boilers to be replaced with other heating systems.

She said: “Together we are strong and together we can achieve this feat.”

READ MORE: What would an embargo on Russian oil mean for Austria?