Merkel Pushes For Future Talks Between The EU And Russia: Why Some Leaders Are More Hesitant

During a time of increased tension, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has defended the proposal that the European Union (EU) should host a diplomatic meeting with Russia. This idea was rejected by other European leaders at the summit that took place the previous week, particularly Eastern European countries that share a border with Russia. Yet, Merkel stated on Monday, June 28th that she simply wants to open a dialogue with Russian leadership and address certain issues, such as the recent cyberattacks and Russian influence in Libya and Syria. These future talks between the European Union and Russia would have “guidelines and conditions,” as reported by VOA News, in order to protect the interests of member countries, as well as to encourage cooperation on key problems. However, for this to take place, the 27 EU members would have to unanimously vote to start talks with Russia once again.

Merkel’s reasoning behind pushing for increased discussion between the European bloc and Russia comes from the fact that “even during the Cold War, people talked to each other,” and that “silence is not conducive to solving the problems,” as she stated at a conference on Monday. Even Russian diplomat Dmitry Peskov has said that “President Putin…remains interested in establishing working relations” between Moscow and the European Union. Yet, on the other hand, a meeting happening in the near future seems doubtful, for as argued by Gitanas Nausėda, the President of Lithuania, “it’s too early because…we don’t see any radical changes in behavior from Putin,” referring to Russian hostility and military presence. This leaves the European Union divided between leaders who want to open a discussion with Russia and those who don’t believe it is worth it, which is a difficult position moving forward.

Even though Russia has displayed aggression and engaged in threatening military activities in countries such as Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea in 2014, working towards increasing diplomacy between the EU and Russia is a goal that should be pursued. Angela Merkel is right in urging leaders to be more open to having talks that could push the agenda of the EU and lead to peace, not only in Europe but worldwide. The European Union is a powerful organization that Russia relies on. Therefore holding a summit where demands are presented would be ideal, instead of letting already tense relations deteriorate. Leaders that are skeptical about holding talks with Russia should reconsider what future they want to see. One where open dialogue is encouraged and there is an improvement in the current strained relationship, or one where hostility escalates to unknown ends.

Russia and the European Union have never been on friendly terms, especially in recent decades with the Cold War and the invasion of Crimea that led to its annexation. Russia is also a key player in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and has intervened in the civil war in Syria, which has only led to even higher tensions. However, earlier in June, U.S. President Biden and Russian President Putin met one-on-one at a summit in Geneva, despite the United States and Russia’s issues. This was a rare meeting for both countries, which paved the way for the European Union to suggest a similar event. The last interaction between the EU and Russia was in February when the EU Foreign Affairs Chief Josep Borrell travelled to Moscow, which resulted in an uneasy situation when the EU was called an “unreliable partner” by Russian Minister Sergey Lavrov. If the European Union and the Moscow Kremlin can move past their differences and agree to hold a summit, perhaps their current strained position can be remedied.

Angela Merkel, in her statement that talks should be held between the European Union and Russia, has a good point in emphasizing that the tense silence that marks their current relationship does not leave much room for improvement or towards peace. Even though Europe and Russia have had unstable relations in the past, it is still possible to reach some sort of agreement that both parties approve of, especially with a summit that is held with pre-established guidelines for the Kremlin. Yet, if a more open dialogue never happens, the division between the East and the West may not be mitigated, leading to greater problems. It remains to be seen if all member states will end up voting to allow talks to occur with Russia, but the question remains whether a vote in the negative will have consequences.

Sabina Marty