The strange project of a summit between Russia and the European Union

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday proposed the upcoming holding of a summit between the EU and Russia. It would be the first since Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. A way to give a new turn to diplomatic relations between Moscow and Brussels?

It is the surprise of the chefs. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron submitted to other European capitals on Wednesday 23 June the idea of ​​a summit between the European Union and Russia.

The initiative would come from Berlin which would have convinced Paris to support it, says the Financial Times who was the first to report on this proposal for a high-level meeting.

The Russian humiliation of the chief diplomat of the European Union

Angela Merkel would seek to capitalize on the good momentum of the June 16 summit between US President Joe Biden and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Poutin. She thinks that the American-Russian face-to-face can “serve as a model to revive Russian-European relations”, continues the British daily.

The proposal did not provoke the enthusiasm of other European capitals, when a two-day European summit opened on Thursday, which was to discuss the difficult relations between the EU and Russia. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has already made it known that he will not attend such a summit.

Other European diplomats told the Financial Times, on condition of anonymity, that they had little appreciated being put up against the wall. “Submitting at the last minute on the menu of the European summit the idea of ​​a meeting between the EU and Russia is not the best approach if we want to agree on a common position”, recognizes Kadri Liik. , specialist on Russia at the European Council of International Relations, contacted by France 24. Especially on a subject as sensitive as relations between Moscow and Brussels.

They are, in fact, not looking good. Last February, Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, paid a visit to Moscow which there was general agreement was “disastrous” and illustrates the deterioration of diplomatic relations between the two powers.

The European envoy learned on social networks that three European diplomats had been expelled from Russia while he was talking with Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs. And during a joint press conference, the latter had judged that Europe was “not a reliable partner” and “acted more and more like the United States”.

For its part, Brussels finds itself increasingly playing the role of the bad cop with regard to Moscow since 2014 and the annexation of Crimea by Russia. Traditionally, “the European diplomatic approach has been a mixture of containment and collaboration, but over the years the containment part has gradually gained the upper hand,” explains Sarah Pagung, Russian foreign policy specialist at the German Council on Relations. foreigners, contacted by France 24.

There is the condemnation of the way in which the Russian power treats political opponents such as Alexey Navalny, the fight against the Russian cyber threat and the propaganda campaigns that Moscow is suspected of carrying out. Since 2015, Brussels has even had a specific working group tasked with tracking down Russian disinformation. The EU is also seeking to reduce its energy dependence on Russian gas.

Play her like Joe Biden

The European Union is not speaking with one voice in the face of Moscow either. “Everyone has their own agenda and relations with Russia are mostly bilateral with each country separately,” notes Sarah Pagung. This suits Vladimir Poutine since he would have more difficulty in advancing his pawns if he had a united Europe in front of him.

These differences of opinion can also create tensions within the EU itself. The most famous example being the controversy surrounding the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline which should allow gas to be transported from Russia to Germany. Angela Merkel is keen on it, but a majority of her European allies are hostile to this project, which is seen as a tool that would allow Moscow to make Europe more dependent on its gas.

In this context, the interest of an EU-Russia summit for Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron is easy to understand. Like US President Joe Biden, the two European heads of state would like to establish a more “peaceful” dialogue with Vladimir Poutine.

For Paris and Berlin, “the objective of reducing tensions with Moscow can also lead to the creation of new opportunities to do business with Russia,” said Zachary Paikin, specialist in relations between Russia and Europe at the Center for European Policy Studies (CEPS), contacted by France 24.

What interest for Vladimir Putin?

But it is still necessary to have enough to convince Vladimir Poutine to come to the negotiating table. The master of the Kremlin increasingly considers the EU as a simple “extension of Washington on the diplomatic level and prefers to speak directly to the United States”, underlines Zachary Paikin.

Russia “also fears that the European Union will lecture it on its way of managing its internal problems and this is something that Vladimir Poutine does not want”, notes Kadri Liik.

For the time being, the subjects on the menu of a possible EU-Russia summit seem “a little hollow”, considers Sarah Pagung. It would be about the climate, the fight against terrorism, the Arctic or even Syria. So many important themes but “which are already discussed in other bodies such as the Arctic Council or the NATO-Russia Council. In addition, I do not see Vladimir Poutine eager to speak about his engagement in Syria with the EU ”, summarizes Kadri Liik.

It is possible that the Russian president will accept anyway. This would indeed be the first EU-Russia summit since 2014: such an event “would be symbolically very important for Vladimir Poutine”, recognizes Sarah Pagung. After the meeting with Joe Biden, this would make it possible to legitimize Russia a little more at the international level.

And then, it would also be a form of legitimization of the very aggressive policy pursued by Russia on the international scene. Vladimir Putin has multiplied the provocations and “what does he receive in return? An invitation to a summit with Europe ”, concludes Sarah Pagung. For this German researcher, it’s a strange message sent to Moscow.

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