Putin in Vienna on 2nd trip to West during Ukraine crisis; Austria, Russia sign gas deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Vienna Tuesday on only his second trip to the West since tensions spiraled over Russia's annexation of Crimea and its actions in eastern Ukraine.

Putin met with Austrian President Heinz Fischer, who has said that it is important to keep channels of communication open. He also was scheduled to meet other Austrian leaders, as well as the current chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, during the half-day visit.

Austria is a member of the European Union, which along with the United States has imposed visa bans and asset freezes for a number of Russian officials but so far has refrained from imposing broader economic sanctions.

The U.S. Embassy in Vienna noted in a brief statement that trans-Atlantic unity "has been essential in discouraging further Russian aggression and facilitating constructive talks."

"The Austrian government, economic leaders, and the Austrian people should consider carefully whether today's events contribute to that effort," it added.

Ahead of Putin's arrival, Austrian energy company OMV and Russian gas monopoly Gazprom signed a contract to build the Austrian section of a gas pipeline to supply Europe, bypassing Ukraine, the Austria Press Agency reported.

The South Stream pipeline will cross the Black Sea, Serbia and Hungary. OMV argues that it will bolster Europe's supply security.