Vladimir Putin Welcomes Starting New Dialogue with EU, Spokesman Says

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes starting a new dialogue with the European Union (EU), Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The leaders of France and Germany said they no longer want to indirectly deal with conflicts with Russia by imposing sanctions and other measures and are seeking direct contact with Russia and Putin, the Associated Press reported.

However, neighboring nations, such as Ukraine and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia, are wary about direct dialogue with Russia.

Putin supports restoring "the mechanism of direct contacts between Brussels and Moscow" and "has spoken about it many times," Peskov said. "Both Brussels and Moscow really need this dialogue."

Ukraine Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba expressed concern over communicating with Russia and said "initiatives to resume EU summits with Russia without seeing any progress from the Russian side will be a dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Russian President Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during his speech at the 20th Congress of the United Russia Party, on June 19, 2021, in Moscow, Russia. Putin welcomes starting a new dialogue with the European Union, according to a Russian spokesman. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Countries bordering Russia likened the move of communicating with Russia to an attempt to talk a bear out of trying to steal honey.

The European Union is deeply divided in its approach to Moscow. Russia is the EU's biggest natural gas supplier, and plays a key role in a series of international conflicts and issues linked to Europe's strategic interests, including the Iran nuclear deal, and conflicts in Syria and Libya.

European heavyweight Germany has strong economic interests there, notably the NordStream 2 undersea pipeline project, and a number of countries, including France, are reluctant to continue waging a sanctions battle with Russia, including over the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The EU is concerned that Putin is turning increasingly authoritarian and wants to distance himself from the West. Both the 27-nation trading bloc and the NATO military alliance are struggling to bring Russia to the table. U.S. President Joe Biden's meeting with Putin this month was a rare exception.

"We have to deal with Russia, but being very cautious about the real intentions of Putin's regime," Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda told reporters at an EU summit in Brussels, where the issue will be discussed. "So far, we don't see any radical change in the pattern of behavior of Russia."

"If, without any positive changes in the behavior of Russia, we start to engage, it will send very uncertain and bad signals, for example to eastern partnership countries," Nauseda said. "It seems to me like we try to engage a bear to keep a pot of honey safe."

Estonia and Latvia are also deeply concerned about reaching out to Russia when the Minsk agreements meant to bring peace to Ukraine, whose Crimean Peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, are still not being respected. Conflict simmers in eastern Ukraine with Russia-backed separatists.

"Right now, if it pans out the way it's proposed, Russia annexes Crimea, Russia wages war in Donbass, and Europe shrugs its shoulders and continues to try to speak a dialogue. The Kremlin does not understand this kind of politics," said Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins.

"The Kremlin understands power politics. The Kremlin does not understand free concessions as a sign of strength," Karins said.

His Estonian counterpart, Kaja Kallas, said she's keen to hear what France and Germany think has improved to permit such a change of policy. "We should be very clear. What is our goal in relationship with Russia, and what has changed, why this is on the table now?"

"What our intelligence tells us is that sanctions work and the European Union has to be more patient," she added.

But French President Emmanuel Macron said Europe cannot simply tackle its problems with Russia on a case-by-case basis, by continually imposing sanctions or other measures.

"We cannot continue without dialogue. We have to talk, including about our disagreements. It's the only way to resolve them," Macron said. "It's a dialogue that's necessary for the stability of the European continent, but demanding because we will not give up our interests and values."

In Berlin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers that "the events of recent months—not just in Germany—have clearly shown that it's not enough if we react to the multitude of Russian provocations in an uncoordinated way."

"Instead, we have to create mechanisms to respond in a common and unified way to provocations" to what she described as "hybrid attacks by Russia." That includes outreach to countries such as Ukraine, Belarus and the western Balkans, but also engaging Russia and Putin directly.

Ukraine, in contrast, was not so keen about the EU outreach.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he had no trouble with top EU officials meeting with Putin, but that "I will not participate in a meeting with Vladimir Putin myself."

Asked why, he said: "MH17," a reference to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine by pro-Russia separatists nearly seven years ago, killing 298 people, many of them Dutch.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel
Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels on June 24, 2021. At their summit in Brussels, EU leaders are set to take stock of coronavirus recovery plans, study ways to improve relations with Russia and Turkey, and insist on the need to develop migration partners with the countries of northern Africa, but a heated exchange over a new LGBT bill in Hungary is also likely. John Thys/Pool Photo via AP

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