European leaders have clashed over a Franco-German initiative for a European summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as critics warn of “free concessions” at a time when relations with the Kremlin are deteriorating.
Ahead of the EU leaders meeting on the surprise Franco-German proposal, Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karenz warned against giving away too much to Putin, while Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said dialogue should only happen if there was “real de-escalation”.
Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said any meeting with Putin should be limited to the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, rather than involving all member states. Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, told the Financial Times that the idea was “irresponsible” and a case of “historical myopia”.
Berlin and Paris erred their European Union partners on Wednesday by putting forward their proposal on the eve of a leaders’ summit in Brussels. The Franco-German initiative Follow Last week’s meeting Between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart in Geneva, which was aimed at stabilizing the deteriorating US-Russian relations.
Arriving for an EU summit on Thursday, Karenz said it was “all for the sake of dialogue” but that it should come “at a certain cost to Russia” given its actions including the 2014 annexation of Crimea and military incursions into eastern Ukraine.
“The Kremlin understands power politics,” Karens 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 most recent was in January 2014 between Putin and the heads 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 is not enough for US President Joe Biden to speak with the Russian president,” she told German lawmakers. “I welcome that, but the European Union also has to devise formats for dialogue. Otherwise, we will not be able to resolve conflicts.”
Emmanuel Macron, the French president, later said he hoped for a “demanding and ambitious” dialogue with Russia, built on the basis of European coordination and unity, and insisted that the EU could not remain a mere reaction when dealing with Russia.
Merkel and Macron gained support from Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who said on Wednesday that he was “very happy that there is a move towards dialogue with Russia”.
“We are closer to Russia geographically than the United States, and the European Union simply cannot observe that the United States and Russia are having a dialogue,” Kurz said. “There are topics like Ukraine that interest us more than the United States.”
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin was “positive” about the proposal, and was watching for a signal of approval from the 27 EU member states.
“We evaluate the initiative positively,” Peskov told reporters on Thursday. President Putin is a supporter of restoring the mechanism of dialogue and contacts between Brussels and Moscow.
But Landsbergis told the Financial Times on Wednesday that resuming meetings with Russia when Moscow “is the closest to totalitarianism in the Soviet Union in more than three decades” is “irresponsible”.
“Falling into the trap once or twice may be seen as an ordeal, but continuing to do so decade after decade seems historically shortsighted,” the Lithuanian foreign minister added.
Given the divisions in the European Union, Russian 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 to this,” he said.
Defenders of the German-French initiative pointed to tougher elements in their proposed text for the EU meeting, which pledged to seek a “resolute and coordinated response” to any “malicious, illegal and disruptive activity” on the part of Russia. It also raised the possibility of imposing economic sanctions as part of the EU’s arsenal when dealing with Russia.
But after a meeting late Wednesday night between the ambassadors, the most difficult points were left for the leaders to sort out – in particular to “review” the “current forms of dialogue with Russia, including at the leadership level.”
Arriving at the summit, Rutte indicated a possible way through the member states’ disagreements by indicating that he would be willing to see a summit between Putin and the heads of the European Commission and the European Council, but that he “would not participate”.
The Brussels summit will also include a discussion on the long list of areas that Germany and France have designated for “selective engagement” with Russia.
These include environment, arctic, cross-border cooperation, energy, health, space, counter-terrorism and organized crime. The list also includes foreign policy issues, including the Iran nuclear deal, Syria and Libya.
On Thursday, Merkel said the EU should “set the agenda of common strategic interests” with Russia. But she sought to dispel the impression that she was trying to get close to Putin.
She said individual EU member states were reacting “in an uncoordinated manner” to “numerous Russian provocations” and needed to better coordinate their approach.
“We have to create mechanisms that will allow us to respond in a unified and collective way.” [such] Provocations.” Only in this way will we learn to counter Russian hybrid attacks.
Merkel, who was giving her last speech to the Bundestag as chancellor before the federal elections in September, stressed that because of her own “responsibility” to Ukraine, Belarus and the Western Balkan states, the EU must “give an appropriate decision”. Response to Russian activities “in those countries.