Germany and France want European Union leaders to host a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but other allies aren’t hearing much justification for a meeting beyond the fact that President Joe Biden did it first.
“We cannot just stand by and watch the dialogue between the U.S. and Russia, while many issues such as Ukraine affect us more than the U.S.,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday.
Merkel’s representatives unveiled the idea in coordination with France on Wednesday, before the leaders arrived in Brussels for European Union Council meetings. The proposal is unpopular farther east among the EU and NATO member-states that endured the tyranny of the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
“We are not thrilled with the idea,” a senior Baltic diplomat told the Washington Examiner. “We are wary, as the global West should not be the demandeur of improvements. Whenever we are, Russia is encouraged to more violations of international law.”
U.S. and European leaders have given Putin the cold shoulder, for the most part, since Russia’s annexation of Crimea and invasion of Eastern Ukraine. Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have met with him individually, and in the context of the Normandy Format, a joint meeting with Ukrainian leaders intended to bring about an end to the conflict, but the idea of a broader meeting between European leaders and the Kremlin chief drew condemnation from other members of the council.
“I won’t participate in a meeting with Vladimir Putin, myself, as European Council,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who has a special grievance with Putin ever since a passenger jet carrying 198 Dutch citizens was shot down over Ukraine by what Dutch authorities say was a Russian surface-to-air missile.
Merkel and Macron made their pitch, another Baltic official noted, just as Putin’s government opened a dispute with the United Kingdom by claiming to have fired warning shots at a British destroyer sailing near Crimea — a claim Russian officials compounded by threatening to bomb such vessels in the future.
“The Biden-Putin meeting proved to be fruitless and even probably naive,” said the European official, citing the Black Sea incident and Russia’s recent blacklisting of Bard College as an “undesirable” entity. “That’s what was the result of the Biden-Putin meeting because Biden gave too much credit to Putin, and that’s what triggered more aggressive action by Russia.”
Biden used the meeting to deliver a direct threat of retaliation if Russia continues to allow cyberattackers to target U.S. infrastructure, following the recent ransomware assault against a major pipeline.
“It is logical to think about the added value of a high-level dialogue,” an adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron told Politico. “It is the observation the U.S. made by holding the Geneva summit. It is also an observation, shared with the Germans, that the president made for a demanding dialogue that is coordinated with our European partners.”
Macron and Merkel also drew opposition on human rights grounds. “There are other bad elements in their proposal, like not having any reference to Russian opposition or civil society that are under increasing pressure,” the senior Baltic diplomat said.
French and German officials couldn’t articulate “a very elaborate or convincing” justification for the follow-on summit, according to one source, beyond the desire for direct dialogue with Putin, raising suspicions of ulterior motives. The second Baltic official surmised that Western European leaders want to improve relations with the Kremlin in advance of Russian elections this fall, which are expected to be fraudulent, in order to make it easier to punish fraud without taking disruptive action.
“The European Union [will have] to react to that,” the second Baltic official said, before surmising that the French and the Germans think that “we have to put relations a little bit higher so that after Russian [legislative] elections you can [take] it a little bit lower.”
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Original Author: Joel Gehrke
Original Location: Allies irritated as Germany and France try to follow Biden with Putin summit