Brussels, Belgium ● Fri, June 25, 2021
After significant opposition from member states concerned about Moscow’s aggressions, EU leaders stated Friday that the group had rejected a request by Germany and France to renew discussions with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following US President Joe Biden’s meeting with Putin in Geneva last week, Berlin and Paris surprised EU peers by putting forward a last-minute request for the bloc to continue meetings with him. Several EU member states, particularly in eastern Europe, were opposed, as they were apprehensive of rewarding the Kremlin with discussions before it changed direction.
After hours of debate in Brussels, German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared, “It was not feasible to agree today that we should meet immediately at the top level.” Leaders decided to preserve and create a “conversation structure” with Russia, according to Merkel, who is attending what could be her final EU summit before elections to determine her successor in September. “I would have loved to see a bigger step here,” she added, “but it’s also excellent this way, and we’ll keep working on it.”
“There will be no meetings at the European Union leaders’ level with Russia,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda stated with joy. “We perceive that our relations with Russia are deteriorating, and we are seeing more aggressive types of Russian behavior,” he stated. Putin was a “supporter” of the summit plan, which might have resurrected a regular meeting that had been put on hold after Russia’s seizure of Crimea drove relations into a tailspin.
Putin and EU leaders last met in early 2014, and since then, the Kremlin strongman has engaged directly with individual countries.
After negotiations in Brussels with the EU’s foreign policy leader, Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, slammed the German-French initiative as a “dangerous divergence from EU sanctions policy.”
Despite having already reached their “lowest level,” the EU is attempting to overhaul its strategy for keeping its massive eastern neighbor in line. Brussels concedes that relations with the Kremlin are poised to worsen further. Following a Russian troop build-up on Ukraine’s borders and a succession of espionage incidents that culminated in diplomatic expulsions, Moscow has been at odds with a number of Western cities recently.
The EU was “open to a selective engagement with Russia on areas of EU interest,” such as climate change, health, the Iran nuclear deal, and conflicts in Syria and Libya, according to the summit’s official conclusions. The EU will “explore formats and conditionalities of communication with Russia,” according to the leaders, but a reference to “leaders’ level” dialogue that was included in a draft version was removed. “As a compromise, it is now to be clarified which conversation avenues can be effective,” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who had backed France and Germany’s drive for talks with Putin, tweeted.
Leaders also stressed the importance of a “strong and coordinated reaction by the EU and its Member States to any additional hostile, unlawful, and disruptive activity by Russia” in their final statement. They asked the European Commission to “offer alternatives for more restrictive measures, including economic sanctions, that may be necessary” against Moscow.