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Putin ‘believes he is winning war’ in Ukraine, says Austrian chancellor after meeting in Moscow

Austria’s chancellor Karl Nehammer — the only EU leader to meet Vladimir Putin since the invasion of Ukraine — has said that the Russian president believes that he is winning the war.

In an interview, Mr Nehammer said that the conversation with the Russian president in Moscow last week was not friendly, describing it as “frank and tough”.

He told NBC’s Meet The Press: “I think he is now in his own war logic. He thinks the war is necessary for security guarantees for the Russian Federation. He doesn’t trust the international community. He blames Ukrainians for genocide in the Donbas region.”

In an earlier press briefing in Moscow, Mr Nehammer said that he made it clear to the president that “his attitude, his view is not shared by anybody”.

The Austrian chancellor said that Mr Putin sees it as a “kind of self-defence operation of the Russian Federation. He calls it special military operations. I call it the war.”

Before his visit to Moscow, Mr Nehammer had visited Bucha in Ukraine and taken stock of the devastation left behind by the Russian forces. He said that he wanted to be a “first-hand witness” before meeting Putin, telling NBC that “we saw the war crimes there [in Bucha]”.

During his interview, he warned that “we have to look in his [Putin’s] eyes and we have to confront him with that, what we see in Ukraine”.

When NBC’s host asked him what Mr Putin’s reaction was to his accusation of war crimes, Mr Nehammer said the Russian leader promised that he “will cooperate with an international investigation, on one hand, and on the other hand, he told me that he doesn’t trust the western world. So this will be the problem now in the future.”

The chancellor also said he told Mr Putin that “we need humanitarian corridors in Mariupol, we need to take care of the wounded”.

The Austrian chancellor said that there were no handshakes, and he posed for no photos, during his meeting with Mr Putin.

Shortly after the Meet the Press broadcast, Russia’s defence ministry announced the opening of a window of surrender in Mariupol for Sunday morning, saying that any Ukrainian forces that gave up their arms in this period would not be harmed. There was no indication on the ground, later on Sunday morning, that the offer had been taken up.

Earlier on Saturday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky said that peace talks with Russia are at a “dead-end because we will not trade our territory and our people”.

He had said that if the Russian forces follow through on their threat to destroy the last Ukrainian troops fighting in the port city of Mariupol, that would “put an end” to talks.

Mr Zelensky also spoke with the leaders of Britain and Sweden on Saturday and discussed strategies on how best to help the Ukrainian forces in Mariupol and the remaining trapped citizens.

In an address to the nation, the Ukrainian president said that Mariupol’s fate could be decided either through battle or diplomacy. He said: “Either our partners give Ukraine all of the necessary heavy weapons, the planes and — without exaggeration — immediately, so we can reduce the pressure of the occupiers on Mariupol and break the blockade.

“Or we do so through negotiations, in which the role of our partners should be decisive,” Mr Zelensky added.

Ultimately, the Austrian chancellor said he came away “pessimistic” from his meeting with the Russian leader. “We all can see that there is a preparation for a massive battle in the Dongas region. We will see many losses of human lives there — this is the reason I am pessimistic.”

Mr Nehammer said that Mr Putin believes that the sanctions are “really tough”. But according to his point of view, this war “is necessary”.

When the chancellor was asked whether he believes that Mr Putin will use nuclear weapons, he responded saying: “It is a tough question. He knows he has this weapon. And he knows the threat of this weapon. I don’t really know if he will use it but he knows that he can threaten the world with this weapon.”

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