Austria’s Nehammer ‘pessimistic’ after Putin meeting

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Monday evening he was "pessimistic" of a diplomatic end to Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine, after meeting the Russian leader on Monday.

Austria's Nehammer 'pessimistic' after Putin meeting
Austria's Chancellor Karl Nehammer (Photo by Joe Klamar / AFP)

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer on Monday said he was “rather pessimistic” about the prospects for diplomacy ending the Ukraine conflict after his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Describing Putin as having “massively entered into a logic of war”, Nehammer told reporters following his meeting that he was “rather pessimistic” about the success of negotiations “because peace talks are always very time-intensive while military logic says: ‘Don’t spend too much time and go directly into battle'”.

‘Not a friendship visit’: Austria’s Nehammer explains Putin meeting

Nehammer had been the first western leader to visit Putin since the invasion, having done so in the hope of bringing an end to the invasion. 

“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. 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.

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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?