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EU Summit To Discuss Strategy For Relations With Russia, Kyiv Warns On Meeting Proposal

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EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell (second right), talks to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba (left), Moldovan Foreign Minister Aureliu Ciocoi (second left) and Georgian Foreign Minister Davit Zalkaliani after a meeting in Brussels on June 24.

European Union leaders are gathering in Brussels on June 24 for a two-day summit during which they will discuss a new strategy to manage relations with Russia amid signs of a split with some members pushing for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and others opposed given their deep-seated distrust of Russia's head of state.

EU leaders will consider whether to seek a summit with Putin as part of the new strategy, a meeting that would follow U.S. President Joe Biden's summit with Putin last week.

Envoys for France and Germany put forward a last-minute proposal to hold a summit with Putin as a possible way to repair ties that the bloc said are in a "negative spiral."

But some EU diplomats said there should be an improvement in relations before any summit with the Russian leader, and numerous EU nations -- particularly in Eastern Europe – are wary of talking to the Kremlin.

The EU and Russia are on opposing sides of several issues from matters involving Ukraine and Belarus to human rights. They also accuse each other of meddling in elections, spreading disinformation, and threatening security and stability in Eastern Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron said that a dialogue with Russia "is necessary for the stability of the European continent, but it will be demanding because we will not give up any of our values."

"We cannot stay in a purely reactive logic when it comes to Russia," he said as he arrived for the EU summit.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and other leaders disagreed.

"Without any positive changes in Russia's behavior, if we start to engage, it'll send a very bad signal to our partners," Nauseda told reporters in Brussels, referring to countries such as Ukraine and Georgia, two former Soviet republics with very tense ties with Moscow.

The Kremlin said that Putin "is a supporter of creating mechanisms for dialogue and contacts between Brussels and Moscow."

"Such a dialogue is truly needed both by Brussels and Moscow," spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters in Moscow.

Ukraine, which is preparing to formally apply for EU membership in 2024 with an eye on joining the bloc in the 2030s, blasted the proposed restarting of summits with Russia.

Speaking after meeting with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in Brussels, Ukraine's foreign minister criticized the proposal.

"Initiatives to resume EU summits with Russia without seeing any progress from the Russian side will be a dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy,” Dmytro Kuleba warned.

The EU, the United States, and other countries have imposed sanctions on Russia after Moscow annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and threw its support behind Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,200 people.

EU leaders hope to build on a strategy paper released earlier this month by the European Commission and the EU's diplomatic service that warned of the "negative spiral" and "a further downturn" in ties.

A draft of the summit conclusions, obtained by RFE/RL on June 24, said the leaders agree that the EU remains open "to a selective engagement with Russia in areas of EU interest," but that Russia must do more to ensure fundamental human rights for its citizens.

"The European Council condemns the limitations on fundamental freedoms in Russia and the shrinking space for civil society," the draft says.

"It stresses the need for people-to-people contacts and continued EU support to Russian civil society, human rights organisations and independent media," it adds.

The EU also published details of economic sanctions against Belarus over the diversion of a commercial flight to Minsk on May 23 to arrest a dissident journalist and his girlfriend.

The draft summit conclusions reiterates the bloc's calls for the immediate release of all political prisoners and arbitrarily detained persons in Belarus, including Raman Pratasevich and Sofia Sapega, and "for an end to repression of civil society and independent media."

The EU "reiterates the democratic right of the Belarusian people to elect their president through new, free and fair elections," the draft says.

The debate over Hungary's LGBT law is likely be raised during the first day.

Controversial legislation adopted by the Hungarian parliament on June 15 bans the "display and promotion of homosexuality" among under-18s. The ban applies to discussions and the dissemination of information in schools that is deemed by authorities to promote homosexuality and gender change.

In a joint letter addressed to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel, the leaders of 16 EU states, more than half of the bloc's members, said: "Respect and tolerance are at the heart of the European project."

"We are determined to continue these efforts and to ensure that Europe's future generations grow up in an environment of equality and respect," said the letter, signed by the leaders of France, Germany, Italy, and Spain, among others.

It did not mention Hungary by name.

Von der Leyen this week said that the EU's executive was considering legal action against the proposed legal changes because they violate the bloc's fundamental values.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who may be in for a frosty reception at the summit, has defended the law, saying it protects the rights of children, guarantees the rights of parents, and does not apply to the sexual orientation rights of those over 18 years of age.

“It does not contain any discriminatory elements," the conservative leader said in a statement on June 23.

Turkey also figures on the EU leaders' agenda. The European Commission is pitching a proposal to provide 3.5 billion euros ($4.2 billion) to Ankara over the next three years as part of a bigger package of support to countries hosting refugees from Syria's civil war.

The additional funding is seen as an incentive for Turkey to stick to efforts aimed at tackling disputes with Greece and ceasing gas exploration in the waters around Cyprus.

The draft conclusions note that the EU remains ready to engage with Turkey "in a phased, proportionate and reversible manner to enhance cooperation in a number of areas of common interest."

In a sign of the summit’s geopolitical reach, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is to sit in at the on the first day for an extended working lunch before the EU leaders tackle the range of foreign affairs issues in front of them.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jowziak, Reuters, and AFP
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