A summit involving the heads of state and government of the 27 EU countries was held in Brussels on June 24 and 25. One of the main issues discussed by the EU leaders was German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal to hold a Russia-EU summit. As the British Financial Times newspaper reported yesterday, Merkel offered to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to a meeting with EU leaders.
The outlet also notes that the German Chancellor's proposal has been supported by French President Emmanuel Macron. The Kremlin has welcomed the suggestion either. According to Press Secretary of Russian President Dmitry Peskov, both Moscow and Brussels do need a dialogue to this effect. Merkel's proposal also found elicit response with leaders of Austria and Belgium Sebastian Kurz and Alexander De Croo respectively.
It is worth noting here that, when motivating her proposal, the German Chancellor said the European Union should follow America's lead and conduct a direct dialogue with Russia at a high level; there is no talk about Brussels' "encouraging" Moscow. Indeed, it is hard to contemplate that after establishing relations with the United States under President Joe Biden, the European Union could independently accept any decisions concerning international life. Especially after the rather "warm" June 16 Geneva meeting between presidents of Russia and the United States. Angela Merkel has certainly secured approval for President Putin's invitation to the EU summit.
So, almost the entire first day of the summit in Brussels was devoted to discussing this issue. As a result, about ten EU countries failed to agree with Merkel and Macron's opinion about the need to invite the Russian leader to the EU summit. For instance, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he would refuse to engage in any talks with the Russian president. His Estonian colleague Kaja Kallas expressed astonishment with this issue being part of the agenda at all. The leaders of Poland, Latvia and Lithuania take a similar attitude.
In this regard, Angela Merkel noted that discussions of this issue at the EU summit were thorough and stressful. "We have once again decided on the terms to work and cooperate with Russia, but we have not reached an agreement on an urgent meeting today," the REUTERS news agency quoted Merkel as saying. The German Chancellor stressed that she expected great courage from her European colleagues on the issue. But, as we can see, many heads of the EU member states did lack it by and large.
As a result, instead of normalizing relations with Moscow, the summit decided to explore the possibility of introducing new sanctions to counter Russia's possible future "malicious" activities. "To this end, the European Council also invites the Commission and the High Representative [of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrel] to present options for additional restrictive measures, including economic sanctions," the summit participants said in a statement.
At the same time, it is emphasized that Russia should "stop actions against the EU and its member states, as well as against third countries." Those actions are not specified, however. There are apparently none of them on EU records. The European leaders also urged Moscow to comply with the Minsk agreements and promised to support civil society, human rights organizations and independent media in Russia.
It should be recognized that the EU countries have still expressed readiness for a dialogue with Russia, though a "selective" one. In particular, the EU members instructed the European Commission and chief EU diplomat Josep Borrel to "develop specific options in this regard, with a view to their consideration by the Council, on topics such as climate and the environment, health, as well as selected issues of foreign and security policy and multilateral issues such as relations with Iran, Syria and Libya."
Moscow, be it noted, perceived the EU's summit refusal and new sanctions "with regret". A statement to that effect came from Press Secretary of the Russian President Dmitry Peskov on June 25. Addressing the media, he said the following: "President [Vladimir] Putin generally remains interested in establishing working relations between Moscow and Brussels." In improving relations with the European Union, Russia is ready to go as far as its European partners are, Peskov stressed.
When asked which of the parties should break the ice, the Kremlin official said that "ideally, this should be a movement towards each other." "There should be mutual political will," Dmitry Peskov believes, emphasizing that the Russian leader's stance is self-explanatory and consistent, with that of Europe being "multiple, not entirely consistent, sometimes incomprehensible." The latest EU summit has confirmed this to the hilt.
And yet, despite the generally negative approach of the EU countries to building relations with Russia in the future, Moscow, according to Peskov, expects that while demonstrating a balanced approach, the EU countries will keep promoting the idea of a dialogue between Moscow and Brussels. "We hope that those countries that adhere to a more balanced approach will continue to work to promote the idea of establishing dialogue between Brussels and Moscow," Peskov said. "Moscow is still interested in this," he assured.
Sad but true: Brussels seems not really dead set on a dialogue with Russia and is only itching for an excuse to impose new sanctions against Moscow. This became obvious after EU leaders' statements at a press conference following the summit. For example, head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said relations between the EU and Russia were on a "negative spiral".
"Indeed, we agreed on a united long-term policy approach based on the report [by the head of the European Diplomacy, Josep Borell] that was presented last week. We are right now in a negative spiral and we need to brace for further downturn. So we agreed to push back when Russia targets the European Union and what we stand for, when it violates human rights; to constrain Russia when it attempts to undermine our interests," she said.
Apparently, Brussels is not going to straighten out matters as regards its relations with Moscow. At least in the foreseeable future. Too bad, as it would meet the interests of both Moscow and Brussels...