EU leaders divided on ties with Russia

European Union leaders have failed to agree on the way forward on relations with Moscow, with most of them rejecting a proposal by France and Germany to hold a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The idea was floated following US President Joe Biden’s meeting with Putin in Geneva, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying a summit with the latter would be “a dialogue to defend our interests”.

But in a statement issued on Friday after the long EU leaders’ meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told journalists: “We couldn’t agree today that we would meet immediately at management level, that is, at executive level… Personally, I would have liked a more courageous step here.”

The 27 EU leaders need to unanimously agree on restarting talks with Russia for such a meeting to take place.

In the official conclusions issued following the meeting, the European Council said in a statement that the EU “is committed to a united, long-term, and strategic European approach” based on its values, principles and interests and condemned the limitations on fundamental freedoms in Russia and the shrinking space for civil society.

The European Council said it expected the Russian leadership “to demonstrate a more constructive engagement and political commitment and stop actions against the EU and its Member States, as well as against third countries”.

It called on Russia “to fully assume its responsibility in ensuring the full implementation of the Minsk agreements as the key condition for any substantial change in the EU’s stance”.

“The European Council stresses the need for a firm and coordinated response by the EU and its Member States to any further malign, illegal and disruptive activity by Russia, making full use of all instruments at the EU’s disposal, and ensuring coordination with partners.”

The Council added that it invited the Commission and the High Representative on Foreign Affairs “to present options for additional restrictive measures, including economic sanctions”.

Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin told journalists on Friday that the Franco-German proposal “was a good initiative” to have this kind of discussion but “it was not the right time” for it.

“The discussion was quite long and different countries had different opinions on what stage the dialogue should be happening.

“This is something still open. Last night we agreed on certain context and this is where we stand,” she said.

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