Austrian leader to meet Putin in Moscow in bid to 'build bridges'

Karl Nehammer is hoping to 'do everything possible to make the war stop'

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer during a visit to Bucha, near Kyiv, in Ukraine on April 9.  EPA / Austrian Chancellery

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Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday, he said, hoping to help build bridges between Russia and Ukraine and stop the "war of aggression".

Mr Nehammer's meeting would be the first direct encounter between Mr Putin and an EU leader since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, starting a broad western effort to isolate Moscow.

"I'm going to meet Vladimir Putin in Moscow tomorrow," Mr Nehammer wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

"We are militarily neutral, but [have] a clear position on the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine.

"It must stop. It needs humanitarian corridors, ceasefire and full investigation of war crimes."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed to RIA news agency that Mr Putin would be holding talks with Mr Nehammer on Monday.

The Russian president has been largely shunned by western leaders since the start of the conflict, although he met Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in the Kremlin in early March.

Mr Nehammer's planned trip to Moscow comes after he met Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv on Saturday.

Mr Nehammer said that with the visit, he aimed to act as a "bridge builder" between Russia and Ukraine, hoping to "do everything possible to make it stop" and to "ensure that steps are taken in the direction of peace", Austrian news agency APA reported.

But he said that the chances of achieving progress were slim, APA said.

Austria has been providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and helmets and body armour for civilians, rather than weapons.

Mr Nehammer, a conservative, has been clearly moved by telephone conversations with Mr Zelenskyy and says he wants to show support.

He said on Twitter that he had briefed other "European partners" about his visit to Moscow.

They included European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, "and of course also" Mr Zelenskyy.

There was criticism for his planned visit in some German-language media, and from at least one Ukrainian official.

Sergei Orlov, deputy mayor of the besieged Ukrainian city of Mariupol, told Germany's Bild that such a visit was unacceptable at the present time.

"The war crimes that Russia is committing right now on Ukrainian soil are still taking place," Mr Orlov said.

"I don't understand how a conversation can be held with Putin at this time, how business can be conducted with him."

Russia has rejected allegations by Ukraine and western countries of war crimes.

It has said it is not attacking civilians during what it calls a "special operation" to demilitarise and "de-Nazify" its neighbour.

Updated: April 10, 2022, 9:34 PM