EU leaders have failed to agree on the proposal of holding a summit with Russian president Vladimir Putin in the near future.
It is not yet clear whether this proposed summit would include all 27 leaders or only Ursula von der Leyen, the EU’s chief executive, and Charles Michel, its chairman.
Leaders’ decision to reject Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel’s idea came after Poland and Baltic countries said that such a summit would send the wrong message as east-west relations worsen.
After a late-night meeting in Brussels resulted in disagreement, Merkel told reporters that “it was a very comprehensive discussion and not an easy one.”
But, supporters of the idea still claim that it would permit European leaders to express direct messages about Russian behaviour while leaving the door open to possible compromise and cooperation.
Critics, however, fear it would only reward Putin at a time when he is ramping up pressure on Ukraine. Especially when the proposal for the summit surfaced on the same day Russian forces claimed to have fired warning shots at a British warship in the Black Sea close to Russian-occupied Crimea.
EU countries also have reservations that Russia does not take the bloc seriously, following Josep Borrell’s public humiliation by the Kremlin in February when the country expelled EU diplomats during his visit without a word of warning.
“We need to have a discussion about how to get away from this negative spiral … but we need to advance united,” one senior EU diplomat told Reuters.
US president Joe Biden met with Putin for three hours in Geneva on June 16 and since then Macron has insisted that the first EU summit since 2014 with Putin would feature “dialogue to defend our interests”.
The French president also reiterated that EU politics could not only be reactive when it came to its diplomacy with Russia.
EU summits with Russia ended in 2014 after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula and the west then imposed sanctions.
In September 2019, Macron attempted to resurrect frosty ties with Putin, but this came to no avail and Merkel then met with Putin in Moscow in January 2020. Putin then held a phone call with Michel, who chairs EU summits, on June 7 this year.
France and Germany want a better way to work with Russia on issues like climate change and find a way to strengthen and stabilise relations.
Even without the summit, Merkel has made it clear actions are underway. “Formats will be explored … under which dialogues can be started,” she said.
Initially, the Kremlin welcomed Macron and Merkel’s idea of a summit saying that there needed to be more discourse between Moscow and Brussels. However, Sergei Lavrov, Russian foreign minister, said more details would be required before the country can fully commit.