Europeans divided on Russia after Biden summit with Putin

After a meeting in Brussels that lasted until Friday morning, EU leaders issued a statement calling for “selective engagement” with Russia but without explicit reference to a summit, a rare defeat for the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“Personally, I would have liked a more courageous step here, but it is also good like that, and we will continue to work,” Merkel said as she left the meeting on Friday morning.

The reluctance among the allies – as well as Russia’s confrontation with a British destroyer in the Black Sea on Wednesday – shows how difficult Biden and European leaders will have to stabilize relations with Moscow.

Some European leaders had criticized the summit proposal, saying it could give the impression that Russia’s military and destabilization campaigns against its neighbors and the West were being overlooked.

“The EU must also create spaces for dialogue.


– German Chancellor Angela Merkel, defending a proposal for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin

“It seems to me that we are trying to hire a bear to keep a jar of honey safe,” Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said ahead of the talks in Brussels.

Faced with skepticism, especially from countries bordering Russia, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended their proposal as necessary diplomacy.

“In my opinion, we as the European Union should also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian President,” Merkel told Parliament before flying to Brussels.

“It is not enough for US President Joe Biden to talk to the Russian president. I am very happy about this, but the EU must also create forums for dialogue, ”she added.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia welcomes the idea of ​​a summit with European leaders.

Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to create a mechanism for dialogue with the European Union, his spokesperson said.


Photo:

vyacheslav prokofyev / Kremlin / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images

“We view the initiative positively,” Peskov told reporters. “President Putin is on the side of creating a mechanism for dialogue and contact between Brussels and Moscow.”

At the meeting in Brussels, EU leaders agreed to explore possible formats and conditions for the dialogue. In their joint statement, the leaders called on Moscow “to show more constructive engagement and political engagement.”

Mr Macron has made several attempts in recent years to improve relations with Russia with a view to detaching Moscow from China, where Mr Putin has sought to strengthen his ties in recent years.

But these efforts failed over the Kremlin’s reluctance to end what Western capitals call its illegal annexation of Crimea and support for small unrecognized states in eastern Ukraine as well as destabilization campaigns against the West which include cyber attacks and disinformation and the Kremlin’s treatment of political opponents.

The EU has already tried to seek an opening, sending foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to Moscow earlier this year. But his Russian counterpart publicly scolded him and informed him in a meeting that Russia was expelling three European diplomats.

Russia released this image of the British destroyer from a Russian military plane in the Black Sea on Wednesday.


Photo:

Russian Ministry of Defense / Reuters

Moscow’s tactics focused on Wednesday when it claimed to have fired warning shots at a British destroyer sailing near Crimea, which Russia took from Ukraine in 2014. The Kremlin has sought to legitimize its annexation, and accused the British warship of encroaching on its territorial waters near Crimea. The British government, which considers Russia’s annexation of Crimea to be illegal, said its ship was in Ukrainian waters and no shots were fired.

“It was absolutely right that we stand up for the law and practice freedom of navigation as we have done,” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday.

Mr Peskov called the incident a deliberate provocation by the stacked pro-Kremlin UK newspapers and television stations on Thursday, saying the incident was aimed at crushing any efforts to improve relations.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova spoke in an interview on state television, calling the London version of the events “bold lies”.

Analysts said the Kremlin designed its version of the incident to present the West as an aggressor to a national audience – and its own determination on Crimea to Western capitals.

Two themes emerged Wednesday during the meeting between President Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva. Gerald F. Seib of the WSJ breaks down the atmosphere and substance of their first summit. Photographic illustration: Todd Johnson

“For Russia, it is not a problem to have conflicting relations, because it increases their importance,” said Agnieszka Legucka, an analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs, a think tank in Warsaw. “Russia uses the European culture of dialogue, which we are always proposing a new type of agreement.”

Since the UK left the EU, countries like Poland which are more suspicious of Russian intentions “have lost a partner who understood our fears and had the same common vision of the Russian threat,” she said. declared.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit last week reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to deterrence and defense against any threat from Russia.

But, upon meeting Mr. Putin, “President Biden has opened the door for France and Germany to attempt some sort of reset with Russia,” Ms. Legucka said.

Write to James Marson at [email protected] and Thomas Grove at [email protected]

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