German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is leaving her post in September, has begun lobbying for resetting relations with Russia.
On Thursday, during her last speech in the Bundestag, Merkel said it was necessary to resume direct contacts with President Vladimir Putin, suspended after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"In my opinion, we as the European Union must also seek direct contact with Russia and the Russian president. It is not enough for the U.S. president to talk to the Russian president. I very much welcome that, but the EU must also create forums for dialogue," Merkel said, as quoted by Euronews.
At the same time, Merkel said that it is necessary to respond, "to numerous Russian provocations in a coordinated way." "The European Union must create mechanisms to respond together and unanimously, learn to counter hybrid attacks from Russia," Deutsche Welle quoted the chancellor as saying.
The day before, Merkel surprised European leaders gathered for the summit in Brussels with a proposal to invite Putin to a meeting of EU heads of state.
Financial Times reports, citing diplomats, the idea was announced "at the last moment" during the dinner, when the leaders were going to discuss the most sensitive topics.
The initiative, according to the FT, was supported by Macron. In addition, consultations are underway with Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who, along with the French President, has been visiting Berlin for talks in recent days.
"We need to discuss how to get out of this negative spiral. But we must act together," a senior EU diplomat told Reuters. He added that some Baltic countries may not agree to the summit. The surprise proposal, which was submitted bypassing procedures and without consultation with European Council President Charles Michel, split the EU, diplomats told Politico.
For several Eastern European countries, Merkel's proposal was unacceptable.
"We’re not seeing any reason why we should upgrade our relations with Russia, especially when we’re currently dealing with a cyberattack, disinformation," one of them explained.
However, the draft French-German proposal emphasizes the need to continue pressure on Moscow, Politico writes.
"Regarding the strengthening of our resilience, the European Council stresses the need for a firm and coordinated response by the EU and the Member States to Russia’s malign activities, making full use of all instruments at the EU’s disposal, and ensuring coordination with other partners. To this aim, the European Council also asks the Commission and the High Representative to present options for additional adequate and effective economic sanctions against responsible parties in reaction to destabilizing actions by Russia," the draft document reads.
Merkel and Macron's proposal came a day after Putin said in an article for Die Zeit that Russia remains committed to the concept of a "Greater Europe", from Lisbon to Vladivostok.
After blaming the West for the "military coup in Ukraine" and "the withdrawal of Crimea", Putin urged not to continue carrying "a heavy load of misunderstandings and mistakes."