Germany and France have called for a new EU strategy for tighter engagement with Russia to build on talks with Moscow following US President Joe Biden’s Geneva summit with Vladimir Putin.
Diplomats said that Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, wanted the EU to consider inviting the Russian president to a summit with EU leaders, and that the initiative was supported by French President Emmanuel Macron.
The Ambassadors representing Berlin and Paris shocked the other EU capitals at a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday by making new proposals on the relationship with the Kremlin, according to people familiar with the discussions.
However, Merkel has been in close consultation with European allies in recent days, with Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi visiting Berlin for talks. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was also in town for talks with the government this week.
Initial discussions between EU and Kremlin officials on the various proposals have already taken place, including the feasibility of a summit involving Putin. The Kremlin did not respond to a request for comment from the FT on the proposals.
Germany is of the view that at the Biden-Putin summit provides a model for reviving relations with Russia. Merkel meets Putin regularly, and spoke with him earlier this week on the phone, but claims to have found a format that allows the EU to speak with one voice on Russia.
“As far as it is concerned, we need to keep the communication channels open, so that we can clearly express our positions and interests and then look to see if solutions can be found,” Merkel said before meeting Blinken on Wednesday.
EU summits with Putin have been suspended since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.
The proposed new move in Moscow will alarm some EU member states, such as the Baltic countries and Poland, which are close to Russia and want to take a tougher line with the Kremlin.
The Franco-German initiative came shortly after Moscow said it would fired warning shots including bombs on a British warship in the Black Sea near the Crimea. The UK denied that all the shots had been fired and said it believed “the Russians were conducting a firing squad”.
EU leaders touched on the future of Russia’s relations at its May summit and accused the European Commission of presenting proposals on how to proceed. But the draft Franco-German text is much more conciliatory than last week’s commission’s analysis that warned of a “negative spiral“In EU-Russia relations and the need to counteract” malicious actions. “
The wording proposed to its member states, which if adopted would be part of the summit’s conclusions later this week, reiterated the EU’s willingness for a “selective engagement” with Russia on areas of common interest.
It encourages the EU commission and diplomatic service to develop “concrete and effective proposals” to this end. Topics will include climate, environment, Arctic, cross-border cooperation, health, space, counter-terrorism and foreign policy areas including Syria and Iran.
“In this regard, the European Council called for a review of the existing format of dialogue with Russia, including meetings at the level of leaders,” says the proposed draft.
The text also stresses the need for the EU to respond in a coordinated way to “malicious activity” by Russia, calling on Brussels to develop options for possible economic sanctions.
The proposal comes a day after Merkel spoke with Putin on a call to mark 80 years since the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union.
During the call, according to the Kremlin, “it was pointed out that overcoming mutual hostility and reconciliation between the Russian and German people was of crucial significance for the post-war European future, and that it would ensure security on our continent. common is only possible through common efforts ”.
“The parties have agreed on other personal contacts,” the Kremlin added.
A former EU diplomat said the Franco-German initiative had caused a “stench” among other EU countries, who expressed frustration over last-minute interventions on the eve of the summit. . “This is not a way for things to be dealt with,” the diplomat said.
Another Member State official described the intervention as “not very useful” and a third said they were “also analyzing” the surprise move. An EU official said the blockade “reflects” on how to find a way forward ahead of the summit, which begins Thursday afternoon.
Additional reports from Guy Chazan in Berlin and Victor Mallet in Paris