The efforts of France's Macron and Germany's Merkel to get EU leaders to resume summit meetings with Russia's Vladimir Putin ended in failure on Thursday, prompting a statement of "regret" from the Kremlin on Friday.
"President Putin was and remains interested in establishing working relations between Moscow and Brussels," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a press briefing. "Unfortunately we have been informed that a number of countries opposed this dialogue at yesterday’s summit. We know that it is above all the so-called 'young Europeans': the Baltic countries and Poland. We are sorry this happened," he said.
Peskov added, "The president’s conceptual position, according to which we are ready to go as far in establishing relationships as our counterparts are, remains relevant and Putin has said so repeatedly."
The France-German initiative at the EU summit had attempted to seize on the positive momentum created after Joe Biden's meeting with Putin on June 16, which both sides acknowledged as constructive and which Putin himself called "friendly".
The 27-nation bloc's rejection of the attempt to urgently restore highest-level diplomatic communications toward a hoped-for future of "cooperation" - as Putin himself urged days ago in an op-ed published in a prominent German daily - came primarily after "fierce resistance" particularly from Eastern European states worried about expanding Russian influence in their affairs.
According to AFP, the Kremlin lashed out against Poland in particular during its expressing regret over lack of restored dialogue:
Peskov said those countries—which he named as Poland and the Baltics — "often speak groundlessly" about a threat from Russia.
As a prime example from Thursday of the kind of rhetoric Moscow is lashing out at...
"It was a common position of many leaders" not to change the stance on Russia, Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said after the meeting broke up. He earlier said the idea was like "trying to engage the bear to keep a pot of honey safe".
Do these people never consult allies before launching these ideas? 'Lithuania’s foreign minister has called a Franco-German initiative to push for a summit between the EU and ... Vladimir Putin “irresponsible” & a case of “historical myopia”...' https://t.co/HKUfIl5EDW— Shashank Joshi (@shashj) June 24, 2021
The EU summit further agreed to extend economic sanctions on Russia for another six months, after they were initially due to expire at the end of July.
TASS cited an inside source who offered the following EU rationale behind the move:
"Yes, as usual the discussion focused on implementation of the Minsk accords [on settlement of the conflict in Ukraine’s east] as part of the discussion on Russia. All agreed that there has been no considerable progress. On the contrary, we have seen worrisome events on the Ukrainian-Russian border in recent months. That is why no one opposed the extension of sanctions for another six months," the source said.
However, the AFP cited some EU diplomats who said the bloc remains "open to a selective engagement" with Moscow in a narrow set of areas of immediate mutual concern, such as the Iran nuclear deal, and the crises in Syria and Libya, as well as on issues like climate change.
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And here's insightful commentary from Rabobank:
...despite what recently happened on the Ukrainian border, and with Belarus, and in the Black Sea, where Moscow has promised to sink the next British ship that sails too close to Crimea, France and Germany are not backing off from their demand for “selective engagement” with Russia on: the environment; the Arctic; cross-border co-operation; energy; health; space; the fight against terrorism; and Iran, Syria, and Libya. And cheese and cars, no doubt. Naturally, this does not sit well with all in the EU, especially those who sit closer to Moscow.
As Politico reports it: "EU unity on Russia collapses over Franco-German outreach plan", adding "Some diplomats blame discord and disarray on jealousy over Joe Biden’s summit in Geneva," and a "sense that Berlin and Paris had grown annoyed at the mishandling of Russia relations by Brussels." Okay, so now France and Germany can mishandle relations directly themselves: but what does this mean for the importance of the "new, geostrategic EU"? What does it mean for how the bloc can react as one to what it recognises as a worryingly new illiberal, Great-Power-politics world? Poland’s PM stated: "Starting any direct dialogue on the highest political level is only possible in a situation where there’s an actual de-escalation and actual withdrawal from the aggressive politics. It’s an unequivocal situation for us." Lithuania’s added: "To fall into a trap once or twice may be regarded as a misfortune, but to continue doing so decade after decade looks like historical myopia." Yet France’s president retorted this "allows us to advance and start a dialogue to defend our interests as Europeans." – without any *physical* defending of Europeans, one supposes(?) At the same time, the EU also saw Dutch PM stating Hungary "must leave" if it won’t repeal a law banning the promotion of homosexuality in schools, adding: "My goal is to bring Hungary to its knees on this issue."
"But the Hungarian law does not ban homosexuality or transgenderism! It only restricts the advocacy of homosexuality and transgenderism to children and minors." https://t.co/UhVtZUmrRR— The American Conservative (@amconmag) June 25, 2021
Yet what is clear is that the EU is bitterly divided in all kinds of ways, internally and externally. Even a little higher spending on infrastructure is unlikely to bridge all those gaps. Indeed, over the next few days, the Dutch will try to thrash the Czechs; France will aim to defeat the Swiss; Sweden wants to dump Ukraine; and England will clash with Germany. I think there is some Euro football happening too.