A day after Russian President Vladimir Putin published an op-ed in the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit which urged openness to positive Russia-Europe relations toward "partnership" and not confrontation - an op-ed wherein he dubbed NATO "a relic of the Cold War" - there are fresh, somewhat unexpected reports that Germany and France are now urging a new EU strategy for "closer engagement" with Moscow.
It also comes exactly a week after the historic Biden-Putin summit where contrary to the apparent hopes of much of the US mainstream media, there were generally "friendly" vibes between the two leaders in Geneva. According to the new FT report on Wednesday: "Diplomats stated that German Chancellor Angela Merkel hopes that the European Union will consider inviting the Russian President to participate in a summit with EU leaders, an initiative supported by French President Emmanuel Macron."
The report cites diplomatic insiders who say "at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, ambassadors representing Berlin and Paris put forward new proposals on relations with the Kremlin, which made other EU capitals untenable."
EU communications with Putin have remained at a low-point, and essentially non-existent in terms of any formal mechanism, since Crimea came under Russia which the West has long condemned as an act of "annexation" and expansionist aggression committed against Ukraine.
The FT report notes crucially that Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken has been quietly meeting with EU leaders in order to keep positive momentum going in the direction of diplomatic reengagement with Russia. "US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken also held talks with the government in Berlin this week," FT reports.
And more details are being reported as follows:
Germany believes that the Biden-Putin summit provides a template for restoring relations with Russia. Merkel meets regularly with Putin, but advocates finding a form for the EU to express its opinions on Russia.
...The proposed new outreach activities with Moscow may alarm some EU member states, such as the Baltic States and Poland, which are adjacent to Russia and want to take a tougher stance against the Kremlin.
No doubt what could be hastening such efforts is the growing state of military tensions in the Black Sea, where on Wednesday major escalation came in the form of "warning shots" fired by a Russian frigate on a British warship as it came near Crimea.
So now on the ground Russia is showing willingness to "shoot first" if it perceives its territory is under threat, while in the media on a broader diplomatic scale Putin is signaling an olive branch if only serious dialogue gets off the ground again (...also after a series of sanctions in the past months related to Navalny and human rights in Russia).
Recall some of Putin's own words yesterday...
The whole system of European security has now degraded significantly. Tensions are rising and the risks of a new arms race are becoming real. We are missing out on the tremendous opportunities that cooperation offers – all the more important now that we are all facing common challenges, such as the pandemic and its dire social and economic consequences.
Why does this happen? And most importantly, what conclusions should we draw together? What lessons of history should we recall? I think, first and foremost, that the entire post-war history of Greater Europe confirms that prosperity and security of our common continent is only possible through the joint efforts of all countries, including Russia. Because Russia is one of the largest countries in Europe.
Why bother? Dialogue is pointless while the EU continues it's illegal economic warfare against Russia via sanctions. https://t.co/HEVUacz19Q— Mark Sleboda (@MarkSleboda1) June 23, 2021
A foremost factor threatening to derail any early attempts to restore regular diplomatic communications and EU-Russia cooperation is the US domestic factor (and this holds true in a number of European countries as well), where politics has of late turned into a competition in Russia-bashing of sorts, making positive communications which might avert eventual conflict increasingly difficult.
Additionally, in recent months there's been escalating tit-for-tat sanctions and travel bans against officials leveled between the Kremlin and some European capitals, related to Alexei Navalny but also accusations and counteraccusations of spy operations run out of consulates and embassies.
Biden and Putin agreeing last week to restore each side's diplomats could be the start of a major reversal of the prior trend of "ambassadors being sent home"; however significant hurdles still remain - not the least of which are continued ratcheting sanctions, the latest of which were announced by Washington as recently as this past Sunday.