Merkel’s Call for Putin Talks Meets Opposition From EU Leaders

Angela Merkel’s call for the European Union to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin has backing from France but is running into opposition from other leaders from across the bloc

As Merkel arrived in Brussels on Thursday for what could be her final EU summit as chancellor, her proposal was publicly criticized by Mark Rutte of the Netherlands, who told reporters that he wouldn’t attend any talks with Putin. Romania’s Klaus Iohannis said it’s too early to talk about a summit with Russia and Estonia’s Kaja Kallas said she was surprised to discover the issue was even on the agenda.

One diplomat familiar with discussions said that about a dozen member states had signaled they were uncomfortable either with the idea itself, or the way it emerged at the last minute.

“The Kremlin does not understand free concessions,” Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Karins said. “The Kremlin understands power politics.”

After U.S. President Joe Biden met with Putin in Geneva last week, Merkel is arguing that the EU can’t just outsource its relationship with Russia to the White House and has to shape its own destiny. The EU has clashed with the Kremlin over a string of issues including Ukraine, Belarus and the Balkan region.

“It’s not enough for the American President Joe Biden to speak with the Russian president -- which I very much welcome -- but the European Union must also establish a format for talks,” Merkel told Germany’s lower house of parliament before she departed for the EU capital, where she and French President Emmanuel Macron are to propose a Putin meeting.

Their aim is to engage with the Russian president while containing his ambitions, and they are seeking to prevent individual member states from stepping out of line when it comes to Russia policy, an EU official said on condition of anonymity.

Accusations of Russian-backed cyberattacks, extrajudicial killings and the poisoning and imprisonment of lead dissident Alexey Navalny have stoked tensions within the 27-member bloc on how to respond to the Kremlin. Any overtures are meeting with resistance from member states, such as the Baltic nations, who want a more assertive posture, the official said.

“We need to have an unwavering dialogue with Russia to defend our interests as Europeans,” Macron said. “This dialogue is needed for the stability of the European continent. We can’t remain in a purely reactive logic toward Russia given that we saw, weeks ago, a structured discussion between President Biden and President Putin.”

Draft summit conclusions seen by Bloomberg say that leaders “will review the existing formats of dialogue with Russia, including at leaders’ level,” although that section is in square brackets, indicating the text hasn’t yet been agreed. It also lists topics such as climate, health, space and organized crime where the EU can potentially engage with Moscow.

The EU hasn’t held summit talks with Putin since the annexation of Crimea and so opponents of the plan felt that Berlin and Paris were proposing a major shift in strategy without properly consulting others, including the eastern countries most affected, the diplomat said.

They also criticized the idea of cooperating with Russia on organized crime, given the EU blames the Kremlin for attacks on its opponents in the U.K. and Germany.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

BQ Install

Bloomberg Quint

Add BloombergQuint App to Home screen.