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Franco-German overture on Putin divides EU – POLITICO

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Germany and France on Wednesday messed up the EU’s carefully orchestrated Russia policy by threatening new economic sanctions while shaking the possibility of a summit between European leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The proposals put forward by Chancellor Angela Merkel after consulting French President Emmanuel Macron came on the eve of a summit meeting of the European Council at which heads of state and government were supposed to discuss EU-Russia relations over dinner – a time that was most sensitive for them Conversations.

The initiatives seemed to be aimed at getting the EU, which has been putting pressure on Moscow since the 2014 invasion and annexation of Crimea, to create a new carrot-and-whip approach to Russia. Officials failed to explain why such a move at this point could produce different results than previous attempts to contact Putin.

But there were quick signs that the plan could backfire, potentially divide the EU by being too soft on Putin by offering a summit, while at the same time angering Moscow by threatening new sanctions. Such threats could risk undermining US President Joe Biden’s efforts to shift the dynamics between the West and the Kremlin just a week after meeting Putin at a high-level summit in Geneva.

The Franco-German plan, unveiled during a meeting of EU diplomats, has blinded the leaders of the European institutions, including Council President Charles Michel, who oversees the summit’s agenda.

Many EU diplomats were angry at the last minute proposal, with some of the strongest outrages coming from the three Baltic countries and Poland. These countries have long advocated a tough response to Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, to malicious activities by Russian activists on European soil, including murders, and to the poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The Navalny case in particular helped to consolidate the EU’s unity against Russia, with Merkel personally announcing the results of a German investigation which shows that Navalny was poisoned with a military chemical weapon.

The idea of ​​a potential summit between Putin and the EU leaders appeared to many diplomats and officials as ill-conceived and at an inopportune time, essentially rewarding the Russian leader without even waiting to see if he would respond positively to Biden’s advances.

The EU also has its own reasons for keeping Moscow at a distance. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov humiliated the EU Foreign Affairs Representative Josep Borrell on a trip to Moscow at the beginning of the year and repeatedly accused the EU of imposing illegal sanctions and of blaming Brussels for the troubled relations of recent years.

Some officials suggested that European leaders were eager to interfere in the conversation between Biden and Putin and that they were upset to see the US president discuss issues of immediate strategic concern to Europe – although such views are completely detached from geopolitical reality. Given the obvious history of Moscow and Washington as former Cold War superpower rivals.

“There are things that we cannot accept”

A senior EU diplomat said that some of the Franco-German ideas were not a cause for some countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

“We are seeing a trend that we are concerned about,” said the senior diplomat. “There are things that we cannot accept.”

On the idea of ​​a summit or improving relations with Putin, the diplomat added: “We see no reason why we should improve our relations with Russia, especially when we are currently dealing with a cyberattack and disinformation.”

An adviser to Macron defended the Franco-German initiative, including the idea of ​​a summit.

“The President has initiated an ambitious dialogue with Russia while ensuring coordination with the Europeans; We agree with the Germans on this approach, ”said the adviser, adding that one of the goals of the European Council this week is to define a strategy towards Russia, supported by all 27 countries.

The adviser also defended the idea of ​​a summit, essentially saying that if Americans could meet Putin, Europeans could too.

“From there, it makes sense to think about the added value of a high-level dialogue,” said the Macron consultant. “It is the observation that the US made while holding the Geneva summit. It is also an observation shared with the Germans that the President has ensured an ambitious dialogue that is coordinated with our European partners. “

However, it was unclear how Macron and Merkel could achieve coordinated policies by enraging EU countries closest to the Russian border, whose citizens had lived under Soviet repression for decades.

The prospect of new economic sanctions seemed like an obvious ploy to enlist the support of Russia’s harshest critics who wanted action against the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

According to the Franco-German proposal, the heads of state and government in summit resolutions would essentially call for Russia to act on the world stage, including a swift implementation of the Minsk peace agreement to end the conflict in Ukraine.

“With a view to strengthening our resilience, the European Council stresses the need for a determined and coordinated response by the EU and the Member States to the malicious activities of Russia, making full use of all the instruments available to the EU and ensuring coordination with other partners,” it says in the conclusions proposed by Germany and France. “To this end, the European Council also instructs the Commission and the High Representative to come up with options for additional appropriate and effective economic sanctions against those responsible in response to destabilizing measures taken by Russia.”

Russian sphere of influence

While the threat of new sanctions could be enough to anger Putin, the Franco-German proposal also provocatively emphasized the EU’s efforts to exert more influence in the countries of the so-called Eastern Partnership, including Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, as well as in Central Asia – Regions that Russia has long considered to be within its own sphere of influence.

The conclusions also explicitly mention the Western Balkans, where Moscow has tried to compete for influence.

“The European Council stresses the need [strengthen] Relations with the Western Balkans and consolidate their European perspective ”, so the Franco-German proposal. “She also stresses the need to strengthen and intensify economic and political relations and cooperation with the Eastern partners and other neighbors, particularly in Central Asia, who are ready to seek closer cooperation with the European Union.”

Proponents of the Franco-German proposal complained that it was “strange” that Biden could meet Putin but not EU leaders, although there is much more to discuss given the geographic proximity and stronger economic ties.

Several senior EU officials said Biden succeeded in laying the groundwork for reversing years of deterioration in relations with Russia, and they commended the US for following a senior foreign ministry official, Victoria Nuland, right from the Geneva summit Sent to Brussels to inform their EU counterparts.

This collaboration seemed all the more remarkable when the Franco-German proposal was presented when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Berlin to attend a conference on the international response to the ongoing civil war in Libya.

Merkel, who met Blinken on Wednesday, praised Biden’s efforts in Geneva and cited a renewed shared point of view between Berlin and Washington. However, she did not mention the proposals for a new EU strategy or how they might affect US initiatives.

“I think we have found a very common basis not only to name the geopolitical challenges facing the world, but also to agree on a common approach,” said Merkel. “This applies to Russia; it applies in relation to China; but it also applies to the questions: What alliances can we forge? What are our interests? “

“In this respect, we will continue this exchange, naturally also with a view to the talks that took place between President Biden and the Russian President,” Merkel continued. “I expressly welcome that such discussions have taken place, as well as discussions with the Chinese leadership in Alaska. I think we have to keep communication channels open in all controversies in the world, formulate our positions and interests clearly and then look at where solutions can be found. “

Barbara Moens contributed to the reporting.

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