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Austria chancellor details 'tough conversation' with Putin

Austria chancellor details 'tough conversation' with Putin
Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the first European leader to meet with Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine began, has detailed his “tough conversation” with the Russian president. File Photo by Christian Bruna/EPA-EFE

April 17 (UPI) -- Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer, the first European leader to meet with Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine began, has detailed his "tough conversation" with the Russian president.

His comments came as a number of international leaders addressed the war in Ukraine during Easter messages.

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Nehammer, as the leader of a European nation that has maintained neutrality since World War II, was in a unique position when he met with Putin on Monday to discuss war crimes allegations.

Before the meeting, Nehammer had visited the Ukrainian town of Bucha where Russia was accused of executing civilians prompting calls for investigations into war crimes.

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"We saw the war crimes there. An Orthodox priest told us Russian soldiers shot the civilians. And after the trip to the Ukraine, I did the trip to Moscow to confront President Putin with what I saw," Nehammer told Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press on Sunday.

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"You know, it was not a friendly conversation. It was a frank and tough conversation. And I told him what I saw. I saw the war crimes. I saw the massive loss of the Russian army. And I told him that there is a need for humanitarian corridors for cities like Mariupol or Kharkiv."

Nehammer said that Putin assured him he would cooperate with an international investigation but "doesn't trust the western world."

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"I think international trust as the United Nations, an international investigation is necessary. And so it was a tough discussion between each other," Nehammer said.

"But I tried to convince him that, for example, the former Yugoslavian war showed us that international investigation is useful to prosecute the war criminals."

Nehammer added that Ukraine and Russia are making preparations for a "massive battle in the Donbas region" where there will be "many losses of human lives."

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"He thinks the war is necessary for security guarantees for the Russian Federation. He doesn't trust the international community. He blames Ukrainians for genocides in the Donbas region," Nehammer said. "I think he believes he is winning the war."

On Sunday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in an Easter message that he wished the holiday would allow people "a few days to draw strength and hope."

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"Because the war in the middle of Europe depresses us all. It's about peace and freedom and that's why we all support Ukrainians and stand by them," he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden also appeared to allude to Ukraine in an Easter message, in which he said: "We know this Holy Day falls on heavy hearts for those who have lost loved ones and those among us living in the dark shadow of war, persecution, and poverty."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video message that he wished Christians around the world a happy and blessed Easter "including the Christians of Ukraine."

Pope Francis held mass during an Easter "marked by war" as St. Peter's Square was packed with an estimated 100,000 visitors for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our eyes, too, are incredulous on this Easter of war. We have seen all too much blood, all too much violence," Francis said in his message.

"Our hearts, too, have been filled with fear and anguish, as so many of our brothers and sisters have had to lock themselves away in order to be safe from bombing."

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