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UKRAINE

Austria’s Nehammer promises to discuss Russian war crimes on Putin visit

Austria's chancellor on Monday will become the first European leader to visit Moscow since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as Kyiv prepares for a huge Russian offensive in the country's east.

Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Austria's chancellor Karl Nehammer (L) attend a press conference in Kyiv, on April 9, 2022. Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP
Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky (R) and Austria's chancellor Karl Nehammer (L) attend a press conference in Kyiv, on April 9, 2022. Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

Karl Nehammer said he would meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is expected to raise alleged war crimes in devastated areas around Kyiv that were under Russian occupation, including the town of Bucha.

Ukrainian authorities say over 1,200 bodies have been found in the area so far and that they are weighing cases against “500 suspects” including Putin and other top Russian officials.

READ MORE: Austria’s Nehammer under fire for Putin visit

Russian forces are now turning their focus to the Donbas region in the east, where Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Russian troops were preparing “even larger operations”.

Russia is believed to be seeking a link between occupied Crimea and Moscow-backed separatist territories Donetsk and Lugansk in Donbas.

“They can use even more missiles against us… But we are preparing for their actions. We will answer,” Zelensky said.

Lugansk governor Sergiy Gaiday warned that the region could suffer as badly as Mariupol, a besieged port city that even pro-Russian authorities say has been 70 percent ruined by fighting.

“The battle for Donbas will last several days, but during these days our cities may be completely destroyed,” Gaiday said.

In a later Telegram message, he said Russian troops knew that “there is no surviving critical or any other infrastructure in our area”.

“Therefore, every shelling of the housing stock is a deliberate terrorist attack.” – ‘War on civilians ‘ – Over the weekend, ongoing attacks on the region hampered evacuations, and 12 people were killed in and around northeast Kharkiv, regional governor Oleg Synegubov said.

“The Russian army continues to wage war on civilians due to a lack of victories at the front,” Synegubov said on Telegram.

In Dnipro, an industrial city of around a million inhabitants, a rain of Russian missiles nearly destroyed the local airport, causing an unknown number of casualties, local authorities said.

Gaiday said a missile strike on a railway station in the city of Kramatorsk on Friday, which killed 57 people, had left many afraid to flee.

Russia has denied involvement in the strike. He estimated just 20 to 25 percent of the local population remained, with “fewer and fewer” now evacuating.

READ MORE: Austrian Chancellor promises more sanctions during Kyiv visit

Over the weekend, nearly 50 wounded and elderly patients were transported from the east in a hospital train by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), the first such evacuation since the attack on the Kramatorsk station.

Electrician Evhen Perepelytsia was evacuated after he lost his leg in shelling in his hometown of Hirske in Lugansk.

“We hope that the worst is over — that after what I’ve been through, it will be better,” said the 30-year-old after arrival in the western city of Lviv.

On Monday, the Chairman of the Board of Ukrainian Railways Alexander Kamyshin said another railway station in the east had been attacked overnight.

“They continue to aim at the railway infrastructure,” he wrote.

‘Progress towards peace’? 

On the diplomatic front, EU foreign ministers meet Monday to discuss a sixth round of sanctions, with concerns that divisions over a ban on Russia gas and oil imports could blunt their impact.

Austria is an EU member, but does not belong to NATO, though Nehammer’s spokesperson said Brussels, Berlin and Kyiv had been informed about the trip to Moscow.

The chancellor decided to organise the meeting after he met Zelensky in Kyiv on Saturday, his office said. He wants “to do everything so that progress towards peace can be made” even if the chances of success are minimal, the spokesperson added.

“We are militarily neutral, but have a clear stance on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine,” Nehammer tweeted, calling for humanitarian corridors, a ceasefire and a full investigation of war crimes.

US President Joe Biden meanwhile will hold virtual talks on Monday with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, just weeks after saying India had been “shaky” in its response to the invasion. A US spokeswoman said the two leaders would consult on ways to offset the “destabilising impact (of the war) on global food supply and commodity markets”.

The World Bank warned Sunday that Ukraine’s economy would collapse by 45.1 percent this year — a much bleaker outlook than it predicted even a month ago — while Russia would see an 11.2 percent decline in GDP. 

‘Inciting hatred’

Ukraine’s allies have sought to pile pressure on Moscow over allegations its troops carried out war crimes in areas around Kyiv, and there has been little sign that intermittent peace talks are progressing.

The Pope has urged an Easter ceasefire, denouncing a war where “defenceless civilians” suffered “heinous massacres and atrocious cruelty.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Sunday accused the Kremlin and Russian media of laying the groundwork for war “for many years”.

“Russian political elites and propaganda have been inciting hatred, dehumanising Ukrainians, nurturing Russian superiority and laying ground for these atrocities,” he tweeted.

But in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press”, Kuleba said he was still open to negotiating with the Russians.

“If sitting down with the Russians will help me to prevent at least one massacre like in Bucha, or at least another attack like in Kramatorsk, I have to take that opportunity,” he said.

Bucha — where authorities say hundreds were killed, some with their hands bound — has become a byword for the brutality allegedly inflicted under Russian occupation.

But other villages, towns and roads on the northwest flank of Kyiv have their own tragedies.

An AFP reporter saw at least two corpses inside a manhole at a petrol station on a motorway outside Kyiv on Sunday, in a mix of civilian and military clothing.

A distraught woman peered in before breaking down, clawing at the earth and wailing: “My little son.”

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UKRAINE

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?

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