France and Germany’s call for European Union summit talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin has met with fierce opposition from Poland and the Baltic countries.
EU leaders will discuss overhauling their foreign policy towards Moscow at a European Council meeting on Thursday, held a week after US President Joe Biden met with Mr Putin in Geneva.
Member states, especially those which border Russia, were infuriated after Paris and Berlin blindsided them with a last minute proposal on Wednesday.
Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron want to resume EU-Russia talks, which were frozen after Russia’s 2014 illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Dmytro Kuleba, foreign minister of non-EU member Ukraine, said the German-French push was a “dangerous deviation” from the EU’s sanctions policy against Moscow.
“We need a dialogue to defend our interests,” Emmanuel Macron, the French president, said as he arrived in the Belgian capital.
“We as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president,” Angela Merkel told the Bundestag before travelling to Brussels.
“It is not enough for the US president to talk to the Russian president. I very much welcome that, but the EU must also create forums for dialogue,” she added in comments later supported by Austria’s Sebastian Kurz.
Germany has economic interests in Russia and in the joint Nord Stream II gas pipeline which is being built from Russia to Germany.
A Kremlin spokesman said Mr Putin was a “supporter” of having the first EU-Russia summit since January 2014.
But Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters in Brussels the idea was like “trying to engage the bear to keep a pot of honey safe”.
“The Kremlin understands power politics, the Kremlin does not understand free concessions as a sign of strength,” Latvian Prime minister Krisjanis Karins said at the summit.
Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki accused Russia of launching cyber-attacks against his country. Nato has recently warned that Russia is trying to divide Western democracies with disinformation.
“Starting any direct dialogue on the highest political level is only possible in a situation where there’s an actual de-escalation and actual withdrawal from the aggressive politics,” Mr Morawiecki said.
“What our intelligence tells us is that sanctions work and the European Union has to be more patient,” said Estonia’s Kaja Kallas, who asked what had changed in Russia’s behaviour to deserve the olive branch.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he was not against the presidents of European Commission and Council meeting with Mr Putin.
He said he would not meet the Russian leader because of Moscow’s failure to cooperate on the investigation into the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17, which was carrying hundreds of Dutch passengers.
EU leaders are set to ask the European Commission to prepare options for economic sanctions against Russia.
The bloc already imposed sanctions against Russian energy, financial and arms sectors after the annexation of Crimea.
The EU has also hit individual Russian officials with asset freezes and travel bans over the poisoning and jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.