PARIS (Reuters) – President Emmanuel Macron defended on Friday a failed attempt by France and Germany to hold an EU summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin, after eastern European leaders shot down the initiative they said would send the wrong message to Moscow.
The meeting proposed by Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, which have both sought to take a less confrontational attitude with Russia in recent years, fractured EU leaders gathered in Brussels along an old East-West divide.
“There was no consensus for a quick summit. It’s no tragedy in my view,” Macron said. “The most important thing is to remain united. Divisions weaken us,” Macron told a news conference.
“The aberration today is that we’re the toughest power vis-a-vis Russia, despite the fact they’re our neighbour,” he said, adding that fellow EU leaders had not expressed the same objections when U.S. President Joe Biden met Putin.
“We saw President Biden meeting President Putin a few weeks ago. I told my friends around the table: he didn’t ask for your opinion. And you see them meeting together and that’s not shocking to you. We’re the odd ones,” Macron said.
EU summits with Russia ended after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and the West imposed sanctions.
While Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Italy’s Mario Draghi said they supported the Franco-German proposal, many other leaders were opposed.
Latvia’s Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the EU risked rewarding Russia with a summit even though diplomacy has failed to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine with Russian-backed separatists.
“I have no obsession with a summit with the 27 (leaders),” Macron said. “I’ll be frank, I don’t need an EU summit to see Vladimir Putin. I saw him several times as president and I’ll continue to see him.”
(Reporting by Michel Rose, Sudip Kar-Gupta and Matthieu Protard; Editing by Frances Kerry)