Austria’s leader says his face-to-face meeting with Putin was ‘not a friendly visit’

“This is not a friendly visit. I have just arrived from Ukraine and have seen with my own eyes the immeasurable suffering caused by the Russian war of aggression,” Nehammer said in a statement released by his office after the meeting outside Moscow. . .

Nehammer is the first European leader to meet Putin face-to-face since his invasion of Ukraine. His visit divided opinion among EU leaders, with some expressing skepticism about engaging with the Russian leader.

The pair spoke for about 75 minutes at Putin’s Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow, Nehammer’s spokesman said, in talks the Austrian leader described as “very direct, open and tough.”

Before visiting Russia, Nehammer met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in kyiv and visited the city of Bucha, where the bodies of unarmed civilians were found strewn on public streets after a month of Russian occupation.

“I referred to the serious war crimes in Bucha and elsewhere and emphasized that all those responsible for them must be held accountable,” Nehammer said, according to the statement. “I also told President Putin in no uncertain terms that the sanctions against Russia will remain in place and will continue to tighten as long as people die in Ukraine.”

Austria is militarily neutral, but its government has joined its neighbors in condemning Putin’s invasion.

The foreign minister said he raised the issue of evacuation corridors with Putin, after repeated cases in which evacuation attempts in Ukraine have been thwarted by Russian attacks. Ukrainian officials said a Russian attack on the Kramatorsk train station on Friday killed dozens of people, including several children.

“I have also made it clear to the Russian president that there is an urgent need for humanitarian corridors to bring clean water and food to besieged cities and to get women, children and the wounded out,” Nehammer said in his statement.

Nehammer cited “a sense of responsibility to leave no stone unturned” as a reason for seeking the meeting with Putin, saying: “For me, there is no alternative but to seek direct talks with Russia as well, despite all the big differences.” .

Before their talks, Lithuania’s foreign minister cast doubt on its effectiveness, saying of the Russian leader: “Personally, I have no reason to believe that he is talkative.”

Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky also urged Nehammer to be cautious. “Don’t be naive. Putin is the perpetrator of this horrendous war crime and atrocities, and he should be punished for it,” he said.

Nehammer’s statement said the European Union was “more united than ever on this issue”.

Ukraine’s foreign minister said on Sunday that it would be “extremely difficult” to even think about negotiating with Russia after the atrocities committed in the city of Bucha and at the Kramatorsk train station.

Putin appointed a new general to oversee his invasion over the weekend, and the focus of Russia’s forces has turned to eastern Ukraine after they failed to seize the capital, kyiv, and other territories in central Ukraine. from the country.

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