EU should try to establish trust with Russia through direct talks

The European Union is in a position in which it must promote efforts to build confidence with Russia while dealing with Russia’s military threat. In order to clearly convey its intentions, a direct dialogue with Russia will also become important.

Disagreements among EU member states have surfaced over policies to deal with Russia. At an EU summit meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron proposed holding a summit meeting with Russia. However, the member states could not reach an agreement because Eastern European countries opposed the proposal.

Relations between the EU and Russia have been cool since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and the EU imposed sanctions on Moscow. No full-fledged leader-level dialogue has been held since then.

Under such circumstances, U.S. President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June and began to work on the improvement of U.S. relations with Russia. It seems that Germany and France are aiming to break the deadlock by taking advantage of the U.S. move.

It is significant that the EU will directly convey to Putin its position never to accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its concerns over cyber-attacks originating from Russia, and will ask him to take appropriate action. The anomalous state of affairs in which there has been no dialogue should be resolved as soon as possible.

However, Poland and the three Baltic countries, including Lithuania, that oppose an EU-Russia summit meeting, say it is inappropriate for the EU to approach Russia while Russia’s behavior remains unchanged.

It is understandable that Eastern European countries have a strong distrust of Russia considering their history, in which they were ruled by the former Soviet Union. They are still facing military threats from Russia and need to strengthen their deterrence. But isn’t it also necessary to ease tension through dialogue?

Behind the difficulty in building a consensus among EU member states is also the conflict over an undersea gas pipeline project to transport Russian-produced natural gas to Germany. Eastern European nations and the United States have opposed the project as they claim Russia could strengthen pressure on Europe, using its energy supply to its advantage. However, the construction is about to be completed.

Merkel, who promoted the project, has announced her intention to step down after the September general election. The environmentalist Greens, which aim to take power, have harshly criticized Putin’s regime, and oppose the pipeline project also from the standpoint of promoting the decarbonization of energy resources.

Germany’s next government must devise a firm strategy against Russia and play a role in the EU as a facilitator.

Russia’s high-handed attitude remains a destabilizing factor for Europe. Recently, Russia has raised military tension by firing warning shots at a British destroyer sailing off the Crimean Peninsula.

Russia’s economy, which relies heavily on natural resources, continues to be deteriorating. Putin should refrain from provocative activities and seriously engage in dialogue with Europe, which could help the country revive its economy.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on July 13, 2021.