As Russia repositions its troops to focus on Eastern Ukraine and the Ukrainian southern port city of Maripol, Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer is set to have talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin today, Monday. These talks act as the first face-to-face interaction between a Western leader and Putin since Russia’s initial invasion of Ukraine, taking place on February 24.
He visited Ukraine on Saturday to support Kyiv after telephone conversations with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy that tugged hard at the Austrian Chancellor’s heartstrings. He said it was his duty to “leave no stone unturned” and no possibility not exhausted as he seeks to end the conflict or hopes the talks could lead to humanitarian improvements.
Upon the potential turning of a stone, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also released a statement saying, “Russia will not pause its military operation in Ukraine for subsequent rounds of peace talks.” Russia continued to deflect and point fingers at the West by blaming them for derailing negotiations due to raising war crimes allegations against Russian troops in Ukraine, which Moscow continues to deny.
Austria, which usually remains neutral, has joined other European Union countries in supporting Ukraine. The Country that usually has closer ties with Russia hopes to use its close relationship to ease war tensions and actions taken out in the field. Many of those actions fall under the category of ‘war crimes.’
As Russia continues to deploy terror as its war strategy, world leaders face an obligation to humanity to put this dog to bed. Chancellor Nehammer said when talking with Putin about what he wanted to address, “My most important message to Putin was that this war must finally end because in a war there are only losers on both sides,” he said in the statement.
As countries such as Finland and Sweden begin to move out of neutrality and aim to join NATO, Russia condemns both their actions and thoughts by promising both countries it would not bring stability to Europe. Although the countries have yet to enter, the US officials expect the Nordic neighbors to ask for membership in the alliance, potentially as early as June. These potential actions would protect the Nordic countries from the terrors brought on in Ukraine.
Shortly after the meeting at Putin’s official Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Nehammer said in a statement issued by his office, “This is not a friendly visit.” A representative of the Chancellor said the meeting lasted 75 minutes. Nehammer repeated previous comments that he had hoped to help bring an end to the conflict or improvements for Ukraine’s civilians under siege, such as humanitarian corridors. However, the Chancellor gave little away when it came to Putin’s response.
Although his friend, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, said he welcomed the talks, many in Austria were plagued with skepticism. An undisclosed professor of comparative Austrian politics at the University of Salzburg, Reinhard Heinisch, tweeted out, “Let’s hope there is more to the Austrian Chancellor # Nehammer’s visit to Putin than has been said meets the eye. Austria has often served the role of Moscow’s useful idiot in the past.”
Although Russia continues to condemn any hope of progress, one can view Putin’s meeting with the first European leader since the initial invasion as a potential change of state. Russia has an abrupt and blunt way of doing things, so blunt that it’s terrifying. As Russia continues to attempt to intimidate countries to abstain from joining NATO and officials begin to speak out on issues without consistent communication, they continue to bury their citizens alongside the Ukrainian citizens that had fallen victim to the war.