European leaders have clashed over a Franco-German initiative for an EU summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, while critics have warned against “free concessions” at a time of deteriorating relations with the Kremlin.
Ahead of a meeting of EU leaders on the surprise of the Franco-German proposal, Krisjanis Karins, the Prime Minister of Latvia, warned not to give too much to Putin, while the Prime Minister of Poland, Mateusz Morawiecki , said dialogue should only take place if there is “real escalation” ”.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said any meeting with Putin should be limited to the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, rather than engaging all member states. Gabrielius Landsbergis, the Lithuanian foreign minister, told the Financial Times that the idea was “irresponsible” and a case of “historical myopia”.
Berlin and Paris blamed their European Union counterparts on Wednesday by floating their proposal on the eve of the leaders’ summit in Brussels. U Franco-German initiative followed last week’s meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart in Geneva, which was destined to stabilize deteriorating US-Russian relations.
Arriving at the EU summit on Thursday, Karins said it was “all for dialogue” but that it should come at “a certain cost to Russia” given its actions including the 2014 annexation of Crimea and the military incursions into eastern Ukraine.
“The Kremlin understands the politics of power,” Karins said. “The Kremlin does not understand free concessions as a sign of strength.”
EU summits with Russia have been suspended since the annexation of Crimea. The last one was in January 2014 between Putin and the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council at the time.
Speaking in the Bundestag on Thursday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU should seek “direct contact” with Russia in the same way that Biden did. “It’s not enough when US President Joe Biden talks to the Russian president,” he told German lawmakers. “I welcome it, but the EU must also create formats for dialogues. Otherwise, we will not be able to resolve conflicts.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said afterward that he hoped to have a “demanding and ambitious” dialogue with Russia, built on a foundation of European coordination and unity, and insisted that the EU could not remain purely reactive when dealing. with Russia.
Merkel and Macron won the support of Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor, who said Wednesday that he was “very happy that there is a movement towards dialogue with Russia”.
“We are closer to Russia geographically than the United States, and the EU can’t just watch as the United States and Russia dialogue,” Kurz said. “There are issues like Ukraine that concern us more than the US.”
Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin was “positive” about the proposal, and that it looked for a sign of agreement between the 27 EU members.
“We have evaluated the initiative positively,” Peskov told reporters Thursday. “President Putin supports the restoration of the mechanism of dialogue and contacts between Brussels and Moscow.”
But Landsbergis told the FT on Wednesday that it would hold meetings with Russia when Moscow “is closest to the totalitarianism of the Soviet Union for more than three decades is irresponsible.”
The Lithuanian Foreign Minister added: “Falling into a trap once or twice may be considered a misfortune, but to continue to do it decade after decade seems like a historic short-sightedness.”
In view of EU divisions, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that it was unclear whether the summit would ever take place. “We don’t even know if the rest of the EU members agree with that,” he said.
Proponents of the French-German initiative have indicated harsher elements in their text proposed for the EU meeting, which has promised to seek a “firm and coordinated response” to any “malicious, illegal and disruptive activity” by in Russia. The possibility of economic sanctions as part of the EU armory when dealing with Russia is also being discussed.
But after a meeting last Wednesday night between the ambassadors, the most difficult points were left to the leaders to resolve – in particular a “review” of “the existing forms of dialogue with Russia, even at the level” of Leaders “.
When he arrived for the summit, Rutte indicated a possible way through the differences between member states by suggesting that he would be willing to see a summit between Putin and the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, but “will not participate. no “.
The Brussels summit will also lead to a debate on a long list of areas assigned by Germany and France for “selective engagement” with Russia.
These include the environment, the Arctic, cross-border cooperation, energy, health, space, and the fight against terrorism and organized crime. Also on the list are foreign policy issues, including the nuclear deal of Iran, Syria and Libya.
Merkel said Thursday that the EU must “define an agenda of common strategic interests” with Russia. But she tried to dispel the impression she was trying to reconcile with Putin.
She said individual EU member states were reacting in an “uncoordinated manner” to “the multitude of Russian provocations” and needed to better harmonize their approach.
“We need to create mechanisms that allow us to react in a united and collective way to [such] provocations, “she added.” Only then will we learn to deal with Russia’s hybrid attacks. ”
Merkel, who had given her last speech to the Bundestag as Chancellor ahead of the September federal elections, insisted that because of her special “responsibility” towards Ukraine, Belarus and other countries. In the Western Balkans, the EU “has to respond to Russian activity” in those countries.