France and Germany proposed on Wednesday (June 23) a summit between European Union chiefs and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to try to improve relations, a meeting that would follow U.S. President Joe Biden’s summit with Putin on June 16.
According to the Financial Times, diplomats representing Berlin and Paris surprised their EU counterparts by springing the proposals for a new relationship with the Kremlin on them. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been in close contact with her colleagues, including French President Emmanule Macron and Italian premier Mario Draghi, over the plans.
“Germany and France have given some ideas for the EU-summit-debate on Russia. Merkel has mentioned before that not only the U.S. should talk with Russia (and China) on the highest level. Russia is a neighbor. Such a format existed already in 2007 in Finland,” a person dealing with the preparation of the summit told Reuters.
“The president launched a demanding dialogue with Russia while ensuring coordination with the Europeans; we agree with the Germans on this approach,” The Politico quoted an advisor to Macron as saying.
The last summit between EU leaders in Brussels and the Kremlin strongman took place in 2014, the year when Russia annexed Crimea.
After that France and Germany have held summits with Putin to discuss Eastern Ukraine in the so-called Normandy format, the last of which was in Paris, in December 2019.
Meanwhile, the bloc has slapped waves of sanctions on Moscow, and Russia has responded with its own counter-measures.
On opposing sides in issues including Ukraine and Belarus, and at odds over human rights, the EU and Russia accuse each other of meddling in elections, disinformation and threatening security and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea.
“We need to have a discussion about how to get away from this negative spiral … but we need to advance united,” Reuters quoted one senior EU diplomat as saying.
The EU’s 27 leaders are set to discuss ties with its vast eastern neighbour at a two-day summit in the Belgian capital on Thursday (June 24) as Brussels admits that relations with the Kremlin have reached their “lowest level”.
At the two-day summit they will also consider the COVID-19 pandemic and ties with Turkey.
In a sign of the summit’s geopolitical reach, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is to sit in at the on the first day for an extended working lunch before the EU leaders tackle the range of foreign affairs issues in front of them.
The Franco-German proposal was unveiled as the US secretary of state, Tony Blinken, began a tour of European capitals, aimed at more closely knitting together US-EU policy. Blinken was in Berlin on Wednesday for discussions with the German government and is due to travel on to France for a meeting with Macron and then to Italy.
The proposed new outreach to Moscow is likely to alarm some EU countries located closest to the Russian border, like Poland and the Baltics who want to take a tougher line with the Kremlin.
The Kremlin welcomed the idea of a summit, saying both Brussels and Moscow needed dialogue.
“What is it about? What is the agenda? We also do not know whether all other EU members support this. So we need our (EU) colleagues to clarify what they mean and what they aim for,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to RIA news agency.
Russia is EU’s fifth largest trade partner while the EU is the largest foreign investor in Russia.
Heads of states and governments of the European Union took a political decision at the two-day summit in Brussels to extend economic sanctions against Russia that expire at the end of July, a source in the delegation of one of European countries in the European Council told TASS on Friday (June 25).
With reporting by The Financial Times, Reuters, Politico and TASS.