Heads of state and government split over new talks despite the Biden-Putin summit

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Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to journalists as she leaves a meeting of EU heads of state and government in Brussels, Belgium, on Friday, June 25, 2021.

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LONDON – France and Germany’s plans to resume talks with Russia have failed as a number of other EU heads of state and government are skeptical of renewed cooperation with the Kremlin.

US President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week despite open differences. Now the German and French leaders want to follow suit.

However, several EU leaders, particularly those from the Baltic states, which are geographically closest to Russia, do not believe that Moscow’s behavior has changed, warranting new talks between the two sides.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday the idea was not to offer Moscow concessions, but simply to have a dialogue. The bloc will not “give up” its values ​​or interests, he said.

But Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said on Friday: “It’s too early because so far We don’t see any radical changes in Putin’s behavior. “

The 27 EU heads of state and government must unanimously agree to resume talks with Russia for such a meeting to take place.

Russia said on Friday that the EU was “hostage to an aggressive minority,” according to Reuters, citing the RIA news agency.

“Unreliable partner”

Relations between the EU and Russia have deteriorated since the Kremlin annexed Crimea in 2014 – something that European heads of state and government have vehemently rejected.

Tensions have escalated since EU Foreign Minister Josep Borrell traveled to Russia in February and remained silent, while Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described the EU as an “unreliable partner”.

“We remember the visit to Moscow and the result was not so positive for the European Union,” said Kaja Kallas, Prime Minister of Estonia, on Thursday when she arrived in Brussels for the European Summit of EU Heads of State and Government.

Instead of working again with Russia, EU leaders agreed in Brussels to formulate demands on the Kremlin before organizing high-level talks.

“The European Council expects the Russian leadership to show a more constructive commitment and political commitment and to stop measures against the EU and its member states as well as against third countries,” said the 27 heads of state and government in a joint statement after their first day of talks in Brussels.

“The European Council calls on Russia to take full responsibility for the full implementation of the Minsk Accords as a key condition for any significant change in the EU’s attitude,” they added.

The Minsk Agreement refers to an agreement originally signed in 2015 by France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia with the aim of bringing about a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and a general de-escalation of tensions. Instead, NATO announced last week that Russia had intensified its activities in the region.

Therefore, EU leaders should present “options for additional restrictive measures, including economic sanctions” if Russia engages in “further malicious, illegal and disruptive activities”.

“We couldn’t agree on a management level, but it is important to me that we maintain and develop the dialogue. Personally, I would have liked to have taken more courageous steps, but this is also a good thing and we will continue to work on it, “said Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday morning.