Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer said that cutting off Russian gas right now is "not possible" and that the European Union must look at sanctions that hurt Russia more than the European Union.
“Austria is not alone with this argument against the gas embargo," he said, citing Germany and Hungary's positions. "And on the other side, Austria stands strong with the other EU member states with the sanctions against the Russian Federation. But sanctions must hurt Russia more than the European Union,” Nehammer told CNN’s Becky Anderson on Wednesday.
“Oil is already discussed now in the European Commission and in the EU Council. The gas question is separate, you know, it's not only the Austrian position, it's also this position of Germany, Hungary or Bulgaria, for example, because we depend on the gas. Our industries depend on the gas. And so we have to decide about sanctions who hurt Russia more than the sanctions hurt us,” the chancellor added.
Asked whether the question of gas embargo could fracture the EU, Nehammer said he doesn’t believe so.
“We decided to gather about the sanctions against the Russian Federation, and the sanctions already decided are really tough and strong. And we will decide about more sanctions against Russia, because, you know, we want to show that there is unity in the European Union, that this war has to end,” he said.
Pressed on what more the EU can do as current sanctions have not stopped Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Austrian chancellor said: “I think we should think about sanctions now in a more intelligent way how we can hurt the Russian Federation but not hurt us. I think this is the main important thing. You know, there is a decision in the European Union that we try everything to become independent from Russian gas, and it's also the willing of Austria for sure. But it's not possible now. It will take time.”
The EU last week agreed to phase out Russian coal imports as part of a new package of sanctions. Earlier today, German government spokesperson Wolfgang Büchner said that Germany has taken steps to reduce its dependence on Russian energy but at this time continues to reject an immediate ban on Russian gas or oil imports.
Nehammer had a face-to-face meeting with Putin on Monday, the first Western sit-down with the Russian President since he launched his invasion in February. Nehammer said he raised alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine during the "tough" and unfriendly meeting.