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Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer says he had tough talks with Putin

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Russia's leader, Vladimir Putin, sat down to talk yesterday with a Western leader for the first time since his assault on Ukraine began. Austria's chancellor, Karl Nehammer, traveled to Moscow for talks that he called direct, open and tough. Esme Nicholson reports.

ESME NICHOLSON, BYLINE: Speaking at a solo online briefing afterwards, Austria's chancellor, Karl Nehammer, was quick to dump in any hopes of a swift end to Russia's war in Ukraine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHANCELLOR KARL NEHAMMER: (Through interpreter) Very little of what I can report from my meeting with President Putin is optimistic, particularly in view of the fresh offensive the Russians are preparing for on a massive scale in eastern Ukraine.

NICHOLSON: Nehammer says he struggled to get Putin to even agree to guarantee humanitarian corridors. The Austrian chancellor's visit has raised some eyebrows and drawn criticism, not least in Ukraine. But Nehammer insists that meeting the Russian president in person is the only way to get through to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NEHAMMER: (Through interpreter) This was not a friendly visit. I was there to confront Putin with the facts of this war.

NICHOLSON: While Austria is a member of the European Union, it is not a NATO member and considers itself neutral in condemning Russia's invasion of Ukraine, though Vienna stresses it's neutral only in military terms, not when it comes to morals. As Nehammer was in Moscow meeting Putin, EU foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss a possible oil embargo and the need to send more weapons as Ukrainian armed forces run out of ammunition. Austria's foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, said the EU had been informed of Nehammer's talks with Putin ahead of time.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEXANDER SCHALLENBERG: (Through interpreter) Each attempt to make clear to Putin what the reality is beyond the walls of the Kremlin is surely worth making.

NICHOLSON: But with Austria reliant on Russia for 80% of its gas, it finds itself financing Putin's war, at least until the EU decides to impose an embargo. For NPR News, I'm Esme Nicholson in Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.