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UKRAINE

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

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer met Vladimir Putin on Monday, the first European leader to visit the Russian president since the start of Moscow's military campaign in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Photo: Mikhail KLIMENTYEV, Stefanie LOOS / POOL / SPUTNIK / AFP
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer. Photo: Mikhail KLIMENTYEV, Stefanie LOOS / POOL / SPUTNIK / AFP

Just over an hour after the meeting started at around 4:00 pm local time in Putin’s residence in Moscow, Nehammer’s office sent out a statement saying that it had ended.

In the statement, Nehammer said the meeting was not “a visit of friendship,” adding that the conversation between the two men had been “direct, open and hard”.

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

Russia denies its forces have committed war crimes. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the Austrian side had requested the meeting be held behind closed doors.

No joint press conference will be held but Nehammer is expected to address reporters alone at around 7:00 pm local time.

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”.

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

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 follows a visit to Kyiv on Saturday where he held talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

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ENERGY

‘Unimaginable’: Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

As an "emergency measure", Austria is getting ready to reopen a coal-fuelled power station near Graz amid fears there will be disruptions to the gas supply from Russia this winter.

'Unimaginable': Austria prepares to reopen coal power station

At the Mellach coal power plant in southern Austria, spider webs have taken over the conveyor belts, and plants and flowers have sprung up around the vast lot that once stored coal.

The plant, Austria’s last coal-fuelled power station, was closed in the spring of 2020, but now the government – nervous that Russia may cut its crucial gas deliveries further – has decided to get the site ready again in case it’s needed.

“I never would have imagined that we would restart the factory,” Peter Probst, a 55-year-old welder, told AFP during a visit of the plant.

“It’s really sad to be so dependent on gas,” he added.

READ ALSO: How to keep your apartment cool in Austria this summer amid rising energy prices

Europe had been trying to move away from coal in the fight against climate change.

But as Russia has cut gas deliveries in the wake of sanctions the West has imposed on it for the war in Ukraine, European countries are turning back to coal.

Today, the Mellach plant’s white and red chimney stands out amid fields of corn and pumpkins, the city of Graz in the distance.

Inside, the walls are black, and coal dust clings to the doors and railings.

Some 450,000 tonnes of coal were stored at the plant before its closure as Austria’s conservative-Greens coalition aimed to have all electricity come from renewable resources by 2030.

Site manager Christof Kurzmann-Friedl says the plant operated by supplier Verbund can be ready again in “about four months” — just in time to help tackle any gas shortages in winter.

READ MORE: When will you get your cost of living ‘bonus’ payments in Austria?

Welder Peter Probst reacts to the news that the coal-fuelled power plant in Mellach will be reopened. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

“Emergency measure”

Chancellor Karl Nehammer insisted on Monday that the plant would only go online if necessary, while Austria holds on to its goals to reduce emissions.

“It’s really an emergency measure,” the conservative told foreign correspondents at a briefing.

“It’s really something that shows how extraordinary our times are… We must prepare for any eventuality.”

The 230 megawatt power plant would take over from the nearby gas-fired plant, also operated by Verbund, which currently supplies heating to Graz’s 300,000 inhabitants, according to Kurzmann-Friedl.

FOR MEMBERS: EU oil embargo: How will the sanctions impact Austria?

He warned, however, that the site must still be readied, hooking up all the equipment again, in addition to hiring qualified personnel and above all finding enough coal.

Before, the coal mainly came from mines in Poland’s Silesia region, which the Polish government is aiming to shut.

Because coal prices have risen by as much as three times since 2020, the power produced by the plant will also be more expensive, Kurzmann-Friedl said.

Criticism has already flared with the opposition Social Democrats slamming the decision to reactivate the coal plant as “an act of desperation by the Greens”.

“Will the next step be the reactivation of Zwentendorf?” the opposition asked, referring to the country’s only nuclear power plant.

The Alpine nation of nine million people has been fiercely anti-nuclear with an unprecedented vote in 1978 against nuclear energy that prevented the plant from ever opening.

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