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‘Gas and blackmail’: How Russia reported the Austrian Chancellor’s visit

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer became the first to visit Russian President Vladimir Putin since the invasion on Monday. According to Russian media, the visit had very little to do with the war.

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

The Russian media has told a different story after Wednesday’s meeting between Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer and Russian President Vladimir Putin, saying the Austrian leader came to Moscow to “blackmail” Russia and was only concerned with Austria’s economic interests. 

An article in Russian news outlet Pravda wrote “According to observers in the Russian capital, Karl Nehammer did not come to Russia to become a peacemaker”.

“Karl Nehammer openly tried to blackmail the Russian president by saying he would confirm to the world media that the Russians were butchers.”

The article, entitled ‘Why Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer went to Russia’, reported Nehammer was primarily concerned with securing Austria’s gas supply. 

Nehammer was “not at all concerned about Ukraine and the Russian military operation in this country,” Pravda reported. 

“The fight for Russian gas will continue. It cannot be ruled out that other European heads of state and government will travel to Moscow after the Austrian Chancellor (did so).”

The news site said Putin rejected the blackmail attempts. 

Nehammer said after the meeting he had attempted to dissuade Putin’s invasion, telling the Russian leader he had “lost the moral argument” with the invasion. 

READ MORE: Austria’s Nehammer ‘pessimistic’ after Putin meeting

“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.

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, which was confirmed by their Russian counterparts. 

Russian news independence has been almost completely eliminated under President Putin, with news messaging subject to heavy state control. 

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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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