The Kremlin has expressed disappointment over the failure of European Union leaders to agree on a proposal by France and Germany to hold an EU-Russia summit with President Vladimir Putin.
At late-night talks in Brussels, the proposal faced fierce resistance from member states -- especially in Eastern Europe -- over concerns that holding such a summit at a time of deteriorating ties between the West and Moscow would send the wrong message.
In a statement early on June 25, the leaders said they "will explore formats and conditionalities of dialogue with Russia," without mentioning any high-level meetings or plans for a summit with Putin.
They said the bloc was open to a "selective engagement with Russia in areas of EU interest," such as climate and the environment, health, the Iran nuclear deal, Syria, and Libya.
The Kremlin said it "regretted" the EU decision not to resume summit meetings with Putin.
"President Putin was and remains interested in establishing working relations between Moscow and Brussels," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
France and Germany proposed holding the first EU summit with Putin since January 2014 after U.S. President Joe Biden met the Russian president in Geneva on June 16, but the proposal was fiercely opposed by member states that remain deeply worried about Moscow's aggression: the three Baltic states -- Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – as well as Poland and Romania.
Russia is the EU's biggest natural-gas supplier and plays a key role in issues linked to Europe's strategic interests, including the Iran nuclear deal and the armed conflicts in Syria and Libya.
But the EU and Russia are on opposing sides of several other issues from matters involving Ukraine and Belarus to human rights. EU states also accuse Russia of meddling in elections, spreading disinformation, and threatening security and stability in Europe.
EU summits with Russia ended after Moscow seized Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and the West imposed sanctions. Conflict still simmers in eastern Ukraine, where Kremlin-backed separatists are active, and Russia caused alarm last spring by building up troops on its border with Ukraine and in Crimea.
"We cannot continue without dialogue," French President Emmanuel Macron said ahead of the Brussels meeting. "We have to talk, including about our disagreements. It's the only way to resolve them."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also argued for a summit with Putin, telling lawmakers in Berlin that the events of recent months have shown that "it's not enough if we react to the multitude of Russian provocations in an uncoordinated way."
She urged creating "mechanisms to respond in a common and unified way" 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.
After the summit was rejected Merkel said that even without one "formats will be explored...under which dialogues can be started."
Germany has strong economic interests in Russia and wants to see the completion of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which would deliver Russian natural gas to Germany.
Among the leaders who opposed the summit was Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, who urged caution in dealing with Russia.
"So far, we don't see any radical change in the pattern of behavior of Russia," Nauseda said. "If, without any positive changes in the behavior of Russia, we start to engage, it will send very uncertain and bad signals."
He said the idea of a summit was like "trying to engage the bear to keep a pot of honey safe."
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the EU risked rewarding Russia with a summit despite the failure of diplomacy to end the conflict in Ukraine.
EU leaders' statement fell back on a familiar pattern by warning of more sanctions against Russia if it continued what the EU says is a policy of disinformation, cyberattacks, and interference to try to divide the bloc.