EU-Russia talks fall through for time being, Estonia still concerned

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Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin at a 2019 meeting.

The lack of support from European Union member states for a call for talks with the Russian Federation, sponsored by the leaders of France and Germany, while encouraging, does not mean that such initiatives may not go ahead in future. Meanwhile, that the proposal fell through should not mean any bilateral meetings between Russia and any union member state should happen instead, one Estonian Member of the European Parliament says.

EU leaders agreed Thursday evening that no EU-Russia summit would be going ahead for the meantime, scotching a proposal from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron to do just that.

Merkel said after lengthy meetings with EU member states' leaders that: "It was not possible today to agree on a summit immediately, at a higher level. However, it is important to me that the format of a dialog is reached and we can work on it. Personally, I would have liked to have seen a bolder step here."

The calls for talks with Russia met with widespread opposition in Estonia, including from Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform), who sought clarity on the rationale behind the call, and former president, Toomas Hendrik Ilves, who in characteristically robust terms, tweeted that the Franco-German leadership pair were either clueless or ignorant of history.

Soon after the 2014 annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation, the EU has agreed on five principles relating to dealings with Russia, and maintains a demand that Russia comply with the Minsk Protocol, if relations between it and the EU are to progress, MEP Urmas Paet (Reform) notes.

One of the five principles covers selective cooperation with Russia, a cooperation whose terms are to be discussed at European Council-level which in actuality could mean meetings with council president Charles Michel, and also European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in any case, Paet noted.

Merkel: Not enough for Russia to meet with US, needs to meet with EU too

Angela Merkel said Thursday that while the EU should stand united against any provocative actions by Russia, this should take place in parallel with sounding out Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, on talks, particularly given his recent tete-a-tete with POTUS Joe Biden.

"It is not enough for the U.S. president to talk to the Russian president," Merkel said, stressing that the EU must also create: "alternative formats of conversation".

However, the joint France-Germany proposal for resuming talks with Russia, seven years after the annexation of Crimea and also the start of the ongoing insurgency war in eastern Ukraine, met with a less than lukewarm response from across the union and not just with the Central and Eastern European (CEE) member states, with only Austria and Denmark pledging support.

ERR's Brussels correspondent Joosep Värk reported that talks continued into the early hours of Friday, and ended with an outcome amenable to the CEE member states.

Kaja Kallas said, however, that discussions overnight Thursday had not shed any light on why Merkel supports dialog with Russia, adding that the collapse of the recent proposal: "Does not mean that any possible dialog with Russia is completely dead and buried. On the contrary, such desires may become more frequent in the future," adding that there is nonetheless widespread opposition to the proposals.

Sanna Marin, the prime minister of Finland, a country which borders with Russia, said that the late-night talks had mainly concerned what cooperation with Russia means in terms of community principles, though declined to say which member states supported, and which opposed, the Merkel-Macron proposal.

"It is essential that we have a common view on the way and principles of dialog with Russia that we adhere to," Marin said, according to ERR's online Estonian news.

Kremlin in favor of talks with EU

One leader who certainly did support the proposal was Vladimir Putin himself; Kremlin spokesperson Dmitri Peskov told reporters that: "We welcome the proposal. Putin is a supporter of dialog mechanisms and contacts between Brussels and Russia."

Both the Kremlin and Washington said in the aftermath of last week's meeting that it could serve to stabilize relations between the two countries, despite tensions.

Estonian MEP: EU should always act as one

MEP Urmas Paet says that the EU must always speak as one in any meetings with Russia, adding that while Estonia can make its voice known in this format, it cannot if bilateral meetings between Russia and one or more EU states go ahead.

"Nor can we ignore the rapid rapprochement between Russia and China, the two great authoritarian regimes, and their impact on Europe," Paet added.

Given the state of current relations between Russia and the EU, he said, such a meeting might not have any clear benefits, while the Kremlin, he added, is already aware of the EU's line on Ukraine and Georgia, while the current poor state of relations is the result of Russian actions in violating international law and human rights.

Russia reportedly fired on a British warship in the Black Sea Wednesday; while not a member state now, the U.K. was still in the EU when the freezing of relations between the bloc and the Russian Federation began, in 2014.

That freeze does not rule out bilateral meetings going ahead, Paet added, meetings which harm unity and in any case do not represent common EU policy, on the part of the member state dialoging with the Kremlin.

An example of this, albeit in his official EU role rather than on behalf of one particular state, was the visit to Moscow a few months ago of the union's high representative of foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, which Paet referred to as having gone "predictably badly."

An added dimension is the EU's Eastern Partnership (EaP) project, which sees the bloc supporting most of the states, such as Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia, which were formerly a part of the Soviet Union but are not EU member states.

EU leaders have generally expressed positive views on the progress of these states, Paet added.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the EU, and NATO, in 2004.

The involvement of all member states in the recent talks which saw overtures to Russia removed from the table, for the time being, was right both in its outcome and in the fact that all member states took part, Paet said.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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