German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hosted his Austrian counterpart Karl Nehammer in Berlin on Thursday. In a joint press conference, the pair said they discussed climate change and the role of fossil fuels, particularly the EU reliance on Russian gas, as well as a common EU response to the war in Ukraine.
Scholz told reporters that the two countries were united in calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to "agree to a cease-fire, enable humanitarian aid, and engage in honest peace negotiations."
Both leaders praised the swift, united European reaction to Russia's invasion of its neighbor, with the bloc imposing sanctions against Moscow and opening its doors to refugees. Putin did not expect such a unified effort, they said.
Could Austrian neutrality be a role model for Ukraine?
Austria is not a member of NATO and was famously neutral during the Cold War, a status that has been floated as a possibility for Ukraine by Russian negotiators at peace talks.
Asked about whether Austria sees itself as an example for Ukraine in that regard, Nehammer said that the comparison was a bit misplaced, because "although we are militarily neutral, we show solidarity when there is an international need ...We are a member of the EU ... of the OECD, of the UN."
Ukraine had to decide for itself what neutrality could mean for its own territory, the Austrian chancellor added.
Scholz, for his part, said that he saw a future for "eastern European countries," to join the European Union, mentioning the western Balkan countries, but did not mention Ukraine.
'We will not be blackmailed by Putin'
In terms of Europe's energy crunch as it begins to wean itself off of Russian gas, both leaders confirmed that they would not bow to demands from the Kremlin to pay out remaining energy contracts in rubles.
"It is important for us not to give a signal that we will not be blackmailed by Putin," Scholz said, stressing that the bills will be paid in euros and dollars, as already agreed upon. He also doubled down on a promise that Germany would be completely independent from Russian oil and gas by the end of the year.