Austria’s Chancellor Karl Nehammer met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday afternoon. “The chancellor, the first European Union (EU) head of government to travel to Russia since the outbreak of war, also wants to address Putin about the “war crimes” in Ukraine during the talks,” reported Austrian media, citing officials. The meeting took place at Putin’s residence in Novo-Ogaryovo (not in Kremlin), Russia’s state agency TASS said.
About 60 minutes later, at 3 p.m., the conversation was over. A statement from the Federal Chancellery stated that the talks with Putin were straightforward, open and tough. “I addressed the serious war crimes in Bucha and other places and emphasized that everyone responsible for them must be held accountable,” the Chancellor said in a statement presumably largely written before the talks.
Nehammer then emphasized that the sanctions against Russia would remain in place and be tightened further as long as people died in Ukraine. The politician also called for so-called humanitarian corridors to bring drinking water and food to the besieged cities. “But my most important message to Putin was that this war must finally end.”
For a country worth mentioning in para above the footnotes of European history and as a Putin critic, Austria’s Chancellor had set himself ambitious goals for his mission. These included a ceasefire and the establishment of exit corridors for Ukrainians affected by the war. Later he admitted that talks are the only way ahead with Kremlin.
Austria prides its role as a mediator during the Cold War before 1980. However, analysts doubt whether Austria would still be able to function as a bridge-builder today. Russians know that the small country no longer has any weight in the EU.
It is no brainer why Putin did not react.
Austria addicted Russian Gas
The fact is that Austria is 80% dependent on Russian gas supplies. The Austrian city of Baumgarten hosts one of the largest gas distribution hubs in Europe, the Central European Gas Hub.
About a third of Russian fuel is pumped through it to the countries of Western Europe. Austrian company OMV estimates the annual volume of pumping through the hub in Baumgarten at more than 40 billion cubic meters of gas. From here, Gas from Russia is sent to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Germany and France, Hungary and Slovakia.
Russian view of Nehammer visit
As per the Russian media, Karl Nehammer came to Vladimir Putin to talk about his country’s business. According to the press, the Russian president did not give the answer that Nehammer was waiting for. Putin confirmed that for all “unfriendly countries,” gas supplies conditions are the same.
Karl Nehammer then tried to blackmail the Russian president by saying that Russia was a butcher to the world media. Putin rejected the blackmail.
It is difficult to say what the Austrian Chancellor would have said if Putin agreed to sign separate conditions for gas supplies with him. But it was clear to the European leaders yesterday that Karl Nehammer could not achieve acceptable conditions for his country as a Central European gas hub.
As per the Russians, the battle for Russian gas will continue. It is possible that following the Austrian Chancellor, other European leaders will also start paying visits to Moscow. Since they are from the ‘‘Russian list of unfriendly countries”. And the answer will be the same for everyone.
Austrian position on Russia
Austria has Russian sanctions in place but has vehemently opposed an embargo on Russian gas for economic reasons. Unlike the governments of Sweden and Finland, which are seriously discussing whether their countries should join NATO, Austria has no such plan. Austria was neutral, is neutral and will remain neutral in the future,” wrote the Chancellor on Twitter in March. The Austrian State Treaty states that Austria can’t join a military alliance, establish foreign military bases within Austria, or participate in a war. But Austria is an important conduit for gas flows between Russia and other countries on the unfriendly Russian list.
LPG is currently not an alternative for Austria. Nehammer also made a pilgrimage to Qatar in March with a small entourage of politicians and business leaders to explore the possibility of buying liquid gas. However, Austria will not receive large quantities from there until further notice.
Positive gains from the meet
In terms of realpolitik, the West will have to talk to Putin sooner or later. Russia is an important country with significant military potential. The question is who will talk to Putin and from what position – from a military and economic strength position or instead from coming along as a junior partner.
Putin is known to have close ties with Austria, where he often spent skiing holidays. Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl invited Putin to her wedding and did a little dance with him. But when it comes to geopolitics and geonomics, Putin does not let romantic memories guide him; he makes tough power politics.