EU-Russia Summit Controversy: Putin Backs Talks While EU Remains Bitterly Divided on Russia Strategy

Written by | Saturday, June 26th, 2021

The idea presented by France and Germany to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit for talks has sparked criticism from some EU countries that take a more hawkish line on ties with Moscow. EU leaders met in Brussels on Thursday (24 June) amid splits over whether to reset relations with Russia. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the 27-member bloc needed direct dialogue with Russia because “conflicts can best be solved if you also talk to each other,” whereby this idea was welcomed by French President Emmanuel Macron who said that warmer ties with Moscow were “necessary for the stability of the European continent.” The Franco-German proposal comes after US President Joe Biden held his own summit with Putin in Geneva, Switzerland, last week.
The bloc has not held a summit with the Russian leader since 2014 amid an ongoing rift over the annexation of Crimea. European-Russian ties have also been strained over the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who is currently imprisoned in a penal colony. Russian President Vladimir Putin himself backs an idea to restore contact between Moscow and the EU, the Kremlin said on Thursday. But the suggestion of closer ties with Putin has already created splits in the EU and came as a surprise to some EU governments. “The Kremlin understands power politics. The Kremlin does not understand free concessions as a sign of strength,” Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins said. Also, Lithuania, another Baltic state, was cool on the idea floated by Paris and Berlin. “If without any positive changes in the behavior of Russia, we will start to engage, it will send very uncertain and bad signals to our partners,” the Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nauseda, said. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte also said he would boycott any direct EU meeting with Putin, citing the suspected Russian involvement in the downing of the MH17 flight over Ukraine in July 2014.
The German-French proposal came just as a war of words between Moscow and London escalated on the same day, as both sides accused one another of giving inaccurate accounts of an incident involving a British warship and Russian forces in the Black Sea. Moscow said its military fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of HMS Defender on Wednesday (23 June) as it sailed off the coast of the Crimea peninsula, accusing the Royal Navy destroyer of breaching its territorial waters. The United Kingdom disputed Russia’s account, saying no warning shots were fired and no bombs were dropped, but suggested a Russian gunnery exercise had been taking place in the area. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told reporters HMS Defender was acting legally in international waters and described the vessel’s route as “wholly appropriate”. “The important point is that we don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea,” he said. “These are Ukrainian waters and it was entirely right to use them to go from A to B.”

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