Germany, France battle to retain clout on Russia under Biden

26 June, 2021 12:00 AM printer

PARIS: A bid by France and Germany to resume European summits with Russia, which was blocked by fellow EU nations on Friday, underscores the anxiety in Paris and Berlin of being sidelined in dealing with Moscow during the presidency of Joe Biden, reports AFP.

A summit between Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16 appears to have been seen by France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel as a model for a dialogue with Russia that can be uncompromising but also constructive.

Analysts say the relative success of that meeting — marked by the absence of a joint press conference but progress on issues of mutual interest — means the EU risks a secondary role as the West redefines its relations with Russia.

But the proposal from France and Germany was thwarted Friday by opposition from within the EU from ex-Soviet bloc nations like Poland as well as the three Baltic states. It also infuriated Western ally Ukraine.

“Paris and Berlin want to regain the initiative and make the case that they matter” in dealings with Moscow, said Thomas Gomart, director of the French Institute of International Relations. The Geneva summit contrasted with the calamitous circumstances of the last high-level meeting between the EU and Moscow in February.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was humiliated in the Russian capital at a press conference by veteran Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and three European diplomats were expelled from Russia on the same day.

Analysts say it is essential for Paris and Berlin that the EU speak with one voice on Russia, not giving the Kremlin the option of playing European states against each other through individual contacts.

“It’s important to show that Europe too is capable of speaking with Putin and can speak with him as Europeans, together, and not each one alone,” said Sebastien Maillard, director of the Jacques Delors Institute.

“Biden is not the voice of the West and the EU. We also have our own interests, values to defend with Moscow,” he said.

Previously the pillar of the EU’s relationship with Russia was an annual summit between Putin and the European Commission president. But these meetings have been off since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Putin makes little secret of the low esteem he has for the EU as a political entity, preferring direct contacts with the main European capitals — which gives him a chance to exploit divisions between member states.

Maillard said changing the nature of the relationship between the EU and Russia was all the more important as Merkel, who has dealt with Putin more than any other major world leader, prepares to leave office in September.

“The idea is to get him to agree to take the EU as a whole. It is all the more necessary now that Merkel is leaving. If there is a European leader he respects, it’s her,” he said.

After EU leaders in Brussels rejected the proposal to resume summit meetings with Putin, Merkel said: “I would have liked to see a bolder step here.”

The Kremlin said it regretted the decision, adding that Putin remained interested.

The dispute came at a sensitive time in relations between Russia and the West, which have been strained further by the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny following a failed attempt to fatally poison him.

France and Germany have long sought to maintain dialogue with Russia: Macron hosted Putin for a summer summit in 2019, and Germany strongly backs the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project.

“The initiative would force Putin into a dialogue with the EU and not only with the member states that interest him,” said Pierre Vimont, a former French diplomat and a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe.

The push by France and Germany also coincides with a move by Britain to sail a warship close to the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

“The British are adding a little salt to the wound to stir up divisions, prevent the EU from having a slightly more nimble diplomacy, and block any opening to Moscow that might get in their way,” Vimont said.


Top