European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (2R) talks to Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (L) Moldova’s Foreign Minister Aureliu Ciocoi (2L), and Georgia’s Foreign Minister David Zalkaliani (R) following their meeting at EU headquarters in Brussels on June 24, 2021 AFP
Ukraine's foreign minister blasted a proposal from Germany and France for the EU to consider restarting summits with Russia, ahead of a debate on the issue by the bloc's leaders.
"Initiatives to resume EU summits with Russia without seeing any progress from the Russian side will be a dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy," Dmytro Kuleba said after meeting the EU's foreign policy chief in Brussels.
"The decision to freeze summits between the EU and Russia was taken in 2014 against the background of the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Unfortunately, Russia has not demonstrated any will to change its policy, neither towards Ukraine, nor towards the EU, and we believe that the resumption of summits is groundless."
Berlin and Paris on Wednesday put forward a last minute proposal ahead of a meeting in Brussels of EU leaders for the bloc to contemplate a potential summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the wake of US President Joe Biden's sit-down with him in Geneva last week.
But there remains resistance from numerous EU members states -- especially in eastern Europe -- who were blindsided by the push and remain deeply wary of talking to the Kremlin.
EU ambassadors failed to thrash out a common position on the proposal late Wednesday and left it for the leaders to hammer out the details.
The 27-nation bloc is looking to revamp its strategy on keeping its vast eastern neighbour in check as Brussels admits that relations with the Kremlin look set to deteriorate further despite having already reached their "lowest level".
The German-French plan insists the EU has to stand firm and united on Moscow, but should look to engage with the Kremlin on issues of mutual interest such as climate change, health, the Iran nuclear deal and conflicts in Syria and Libya.
Proposed draft conclusions put forward by Berlin and Paris for the EU summit say the bloc "will review the existing formats of dialogue with Russia, including at Leaders' level".
But they also lay out that leaders will ask the European Commission "to present options for additional restrictive measures, including economic sanctions" to push back against "any further malign, illegal and disruptive activity by Russia".
- Premature -
The EU gathering on Thursday is set to be the last for German Chancellor Angela Merkel before an election to decide her successor in September.
Merkel has taken the lead among leaders in the bloc in dealing with Putin as ties have unravelled over the past seven years.
"In my opinion, we as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president," she told the German parliament on Thursday.
"It is not enough for the American president to talk to the Russian president," she said, stressing that the European Union too "must also create different formats for talks".
One European diplomat argued that "the EU must stand firm and establish a counterbalance against Russia. It must also put itself in a position to resist, in particular, cyberattacks. And it must be able to engage in dialogue with Russia on the subjects for which it has interests."
Another countered that it was "premature" to talk about a meeting with the Russian leader.
"Why have a summit with Putin if there is nothing positive to discuss," the diplomat said.
Details on the exact format for any potential meeting with Putin are still unclear -- and it remains to be seen if it would involve all 27 national leaders or the heads of the European Commission and Council.
The last summit between EU chiefs in Brussels and Putin took place in early 2014, with the Kremlin strongman preferring to deal bilaterally with individual nations since then.
Ties between the EU and Russia have been in the doldrums since the Kremlin annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014.
The bloc has slapped waves of sanctions on Moscow, and Russia has responded with its own counter-measures.