EU member outrage over France and Germany’s surprise call for summit with Putin

Brussels: France and Germany’s call for European Union summit talks with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, met fierce opposition from Poland and the Baltic countries.

EU leaders discussed overhauling their foreign policy towards Moscow at a European Council meeting, held a week after Joe Biden, the US president, met Putin in Geneva.

Member states, especially those bordering Russia, were infuriated after Paris and Berlin blindsided them with a last-minute proposal on Wednesday.

Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania’s president, said the idea was like “trying to engage the bear to keep a pot of honey safe”.Credit:Bloomberg

Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron want to resume EU-Russia talks, frozen after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

Dmytro Kuleba, foreign minister of non-EU member Ukraine, said the German-French push was a “dangerous deviation” from the EU’s sanctions policy against Moscow.

“We need a dialogue to defend our interests,” Macron, the French president, said as he arrived in Brussels.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.Credit:AP

“We, as the European Union, must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” Merkel, the German chancellor, told the Bundestag before travelling to the Belgian capital.

“It is not enough for the US president to talk to the Russian president. I very much welcome that, but the EU must also create forums for dialogue,” she added in comments later supported by Sebastian Kurz, the Austrian chancellor.

Germany has economic interests in Russia and in the joint Nord Stream II gas pipeline which is being built from Russia to Germany.

A Kremlin spokesman said Putin was a “supporter” of having the first EU-Russia summit since January 2014.

But Gitanas Nauseda, Lithuania’s president, told reporters in Brussels the idea was like “trying to engage the bear to keep a pot of honey safe”.

“The Kremlin understands power politics. The Kremlin does not understand free concessions as a sign of strength,” Krisjanis Karins, the Latvian prime minister, said at the summit.

Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s prime minister, accused Russia of launching cyberattacks against his country. NATO has recently warned that Russia is trying to divide Western democracies with disinformation.

“Starting any direct dialogue on the highest political level is only possible in a situation where there is an actual de-escalation and actual withdrawal from the aggressive politics,” Morawiecki said.

“What our intelligence tells us is that sanctions work and the European Union has to be more patient,” said Kaja Kallas, the prime minister of Estonia, who asked what had changed in Russia’s behaviour to deserve the olive branch.

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, said he was not against the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council meeting with Putin. However, he said he would not meet the Russian leader personally because of Moscow’s failure to co-operate on the investigation into the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17, which was carrying hundreds of Dutch passengers.

Thirty-eight Australian citizens and residents also died when the commercial jet was shot down over Ukraine.

Surprise plans to invite Putin to the EU summit come one day after Russia harassed a British naval ship in the Black Sea.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson defended Britain’s confrontation with Russia, dismissing Moscow’s protests as London vowed to continue to exercise its right to enter disputed waters off Crimea.

“I think it was wholly appropriate to use international waters,” Johnson told reporters at a military base in Hampshire on Thursday, declining to say whether he’d personally approved the route of the British destroyer.

“The important point is that we don’t recognise the Russian annexation of Crimea.”

Asked for his reaction to Russia saying the UK lied over the incident, he replied, “They’re the bear.”

Russia warned the UK not to repeat what it branded as “unacceptable provocative actions.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would not exclude any options to defend its border on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

Russia said it used bombs and gunfire in “warning shots” Wednesday to force the HMS Defender to leave waters it claims off the coast of Crimea.

Britain rejected that, saying it was likely a “gunnery exercise” that didn’t affect the ship’s planned voyage.

Britain and its allies don’t recognise Crimea as Russian territory after Putin’s 2014 annexation of the strategic peninsula from Ukraine.

Telegraph, London, AP

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