France and Germany proposed on Wednesday a EU summit with Putin to try to improve relations, potentially paving the way for the first such meeting since 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin backed the idea to restore dialogue and contacts between Moscow and the European Union, the Kremlin said on Thursday.
The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “Such a dialogue is truly need both to Brussels and Moscow.
“We consider such a proposal positively.”
But the move infuriated seven eastern member states ahead of the EU Council summit today.
One diplomat told Politico: “Obviously not everyone was happy with the timing of the proposal a day ahead of the European Council.”
Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves lashed out against President Macron and Chancellor Merkel in a brutal tweet.
He wrote: “Merkel and Macron are either clueless or have learnt nothing from 80 years of history and the nations betrayed by the Germans.
“Without even talking to other EU countries.
“Exactly like their forebears.
“I say that knowing full well what I say.
“We do not matter. Expendable.
“Worse, they actually believe they know better.
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She was echoing Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, who told Reuters: “We cannot isolate Russia because Russia is a reality that none of us can escape. We need to motivate Moscow to cease its aggressive actions.”
Since Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014 and the EU froze summits with Putin, EU policy has zigzagged between imposing economic sanctions and allowing a new gas pipeline from Russia to Germany to reach completion.
But efforts to resolve the conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine have reached a stalemate, despite ceasefires and peace agreements.
In a sign of tensions, Russia said this week it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British destroyer sailing in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea, although Britain, no longer an EU member, denied it.
At the two-day summit in Brussels that will also consider the COVID-19 pandemic and ties with Turkey, leaders hope to build on a Russia strategy paper earlier this month by the European Commission and the EU’s diplomatic service.
It warned of a “negative spiral” and “a further downturn” in ties. EU leaders are now expected to build on that paper to flesh out ways to both call out covert Russian action and work with Moscow on combating climate change.
The paper proposes using the mantra “push back, constrain, engage”.
“Out of a confrontation of ideas comes understanding,” a senior EU diplomat said in support of the EU strategy, although the envoy doubted a sudden improvement in trust.
French President Emmanuel Macron already tried in September 2019 to seek less frosty ties with Putin, without success. Some EU diplomats said there should be an improvement in relations before any summit with the Russian leader.
Potential for new flash points abound. The EU will on Thursday or Friday publish details of economic sanctions on Belarus, an ally of Russia that the Kremlin sees as a buffer state between Russia and NATO.