Opposition from across Europe has forced France and Germany to abandon plans to invite Russia to high-level talks with Brussels. So why did their proposal fall flat, and where does it leave relations?
Buoyed by US President Joe Biden’s tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin in Geneva last week, Berlin and Paris urged EU members to resume talks with the Russian leader.
Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel argued it was time for a bold new step that would open the door to compromise and cooperation, while at the same time defending EU interests.
Baltic states led a revolt against the idea, arguing that Russia had done nothing to merit being invited back to the table. Opposition reverberated throughout the bloc, including in western and northern Europe.
“France and Germany did not present a convincing case for why a summit was needed,” Gustav Gressel, a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations told RFI.
“The summit Biden had with Putin was predominantly about nuclear arms control. The United States is a nuclear power; the EU is not. The United States has arms control and nuclear protocol issues to discuss with Russia; the EU does not.”
The Kremlin was quick to express disappointment at the “fragmented” European position, with a spokesperson telling reporters that Putin was still interested in improving relations with Brussels.
In the seven years since Russia annexed Crimea and summits between Brussels and Moscow dried up, the EU has used sanctions to deliver its message and keep up pressure on Russia.
Despite the moratorium on summits, the channels of communication have remained open between Putin and EU leaders. Merkel, for example, meets Putin regularly, while European Council President Charles Michel spoke to Putin on the phone earlier this month.
The value of an actual summit, says Gressel, is that it provides the occasion to drive political momentum on a variety of issues – such as trade and investment – between parties who have overlapping interests.
“But Russia does not fit this criteria … because the EU is at odds with the Russians on almost everything,” he says, adding that any summit should therefore be avoided.
“The EU is not united on Russia, so such a big summit risks hindering their cause rather than reinforcing it.
“I’m totally bewildered, amused and frightened that the Germans and the French don't see this danger.”