Moscow gives backing to proposal for talks put forward by Germany and France as EU leaders ready to weigh the plan at Brussels meeting.
Russian President Vladimir Putin backs an idea to restore contact between Moscow and the European Union, the Kremlin said on Thursday, after France and Germany proposed a summit to try to improve relations.
“We assess the initiative positively,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “Putin is a supporter of creating mechanisms for dialogue and contacts between Brussels and Moscow.”
Peskov was responding to a question about the French-German plan, which was announced on Wednesday.
The push comes after US President Joe Biden’s summit with Putin in Geneva last week.
Berlin and Paris are recommending that the EU unites on Russia.
While the bloc disagrees with Moscow on a range of issues, they say it should look to engage with the Kremlin on issues of mutual interest such as climate change, health, the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and conflicts in Syria and Libya.
EU leaders are set to weigh the proposal on Thursday at a European Council meeting in Brussels.
Merkel calls for ‘dialogue’
The EU froze summits with Putin following Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and relations between Brussels and Moscow have steadily deteriorated to a post-Cold War low point since then.
They are on opposing sides over Ukraine, Belarus and human rights, and accuse each other of threatening security and stability from the Baltics to the Black Sea.
Brussels has imposed waves of sanctions on Moscow, which has responded with its own countermeasures.
But Paris and Berlin say restarting talks will help in repairing ties.
“We as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” Germany’s outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel told legislators on Thursday in the German Bundestag.
“It is not enough for the US president to talk to the Russian president. I very much welcome that, but the EU must also create forums for dialogue,” she added.
Merkel, who could be attending her last EU summit with German elections set for September, also said that the 27-member union should put up “a united front against the provocations” by Russia.
Ukraine, Lithuania slam ‘dangerous’ proposal
Several EU member states – especially those in eastern Europe – are resistant to the idea of a summit with Putin, however.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda warned the EU against engaging in direct dialogue with the Russian leader.
Arriving to the EU summit on Thursday, he said the plan was like “trying to engage the bear to keep a pot of honey safe”.
“Without any positive changes in Russia’s behaviour, if we start to engage, it’ll send a very bad signal to our partners,” he said, referring to countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, former Soviet republics with extremely fraught ties with Moscow.
Details on the exact format for any potential meeting are unclear and it remains to be seen if it would involve all 27 national leaders or the heads of the European Commission and Council.
Ukraine’s foreign minister on Thursday blasted the German-French proposal, saying Putin had failed to demonstrate a willingness to change.
“Initiatives to resume EU summits with Russia without seeing any progress from the Russian side will be a dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy,” Ukraine’s Foreign Minister 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,” Kuleba added.
“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.”