German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron have privately called for inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to a summit of European leaders, the Financial Times reported on 23 June, specifying that the proposal was spearheaded by Merkel, while the French head of the state supported the idea. The news was confirmed by Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov, who highlighted that key discussions would be carried out within the EU with participation of other member states.
The plan emerged after Geneva talks between Putin and his American counterpart Joe Biden earlier this month, which were apparently seen by Berlin as a "template" for improving ties with Moscow. Addressing the Bundestag on Thursday, Merkel stressed that the European Union should seek direct contact with Russia and its president in order to settle differences and cooperate on security and climate change issues.
Germany & France Historically Inclined to Cooperate With Russia
It is hardly surprising that Germany and France are spearheading the idea of rapprochement with Russia, says Jo Jakobsen, political science and international relations professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. According to the professor, these two most weighty EU members are "both naturally and historically inclined to cooperate with Russia when it makes sense in a realpolitik and an economic perspective."
"This initiative is clearly a direct result of Biden’s recent European tour," Jakobsen believes. "In particular, the Biden-Putin summit signalled a joint wish to improve relations between these two great powers. At the very least, the two presidents seemed to agree on the need to coordinate and manage relations better, and to enhance communication. Angela Merkel takes her cue from these signals, and she seems to act quickly to initiate a new strategy that she obviously has thought about for some time."
At the same time, it is getting increasingly clear that the US is "itching to refocus its energy toward the Asia-Pacific region," Jakobsen says referring to Biden's renewed pivot to the Asia strategy inherited from the Obama administration and anti-China rhetoric akin to that of Donald Trump.
Under these circumstances Western Europe will have to become considerably more independent in its foreign and security policies, argues the academic, referring to "Europe's strategic autonomy" concept mentioned by Macron at the 2021 Munich Security Conference in February. In addition to that, the French president also suggested at that time that NATO's new blueprint should involve "a dialogue with Russia."
EU STRATEGIC AUTONOMY |— Vocal Europe (@thevocaleurope) February 19, 2021
President Macron on 🇪🇺 Strategic Autonomy at Munich Security Conference 2021. pic.twitter.com/Jfcol5gZJU
One might expect that this emerging trend would include "a partial normalisation of ties with Russia," Jakobsen believes.
"In that respect, one of the signals or acknowledgments coming from the Biden-Putin summit, that the conflict over values and domestic development should not always spill over into other issue areas, is also key," he says. "Without such an acknowledgement, the West and Russia will be locked in a long-term conflict irrespective of how damaging that is for European security."
Macron's 'Architecture of Trust and Security'
In 2019 Macron emphasised the necessity of starting a strategic dialogue with Russia in order to create "architecture of trust and security" on the European continent. "If we want to build peace in Europe, to rebuild European strategic autonomy, we need to reconsider our position with Russia," he told the Economist in November 2019. It was the first major gesture from a major EU member state to Moscow following a Ukrainian coup and a row over Crimea's unification with Russia in 2014.
Still, the world is not about to witness a major integration of Russia in the European security architecture, Jakobsen deems.
"From the perspective of Moscow, it would be ideal to institute sort of a summit diplomacy, where the major powers of Europe – including France, Germany, and Russia itself – would meet regularly, not unlike the Concert of Europe system that followed the Napoleonic Wars," the Norwegian professor suggests.
However, this is unlikely to happen anytime soon because of the resistance of Eastern European states, such as Ukraine, Poland, or the Baltic nations, which are "not willing to go along with something resembling a full normalisation of ties and a Europe governed by the major powers."
"But we might eventually see a 'concert light,' where Russia is given the status as a European power whose voice matters greatly for the whole continent," the academic presumes.
Greater Europe: From Lisbon to Vladivostok
Putin has repeatedly emphasised that Moscow is open to dialogue and ready to restore its partnership with Europe. In his 22 June article for the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit, the Russian president reiterated the idea of building a Greater Europe – "from Lisbon to Vladivostok" – which would be united by common values and interests." He particularly referred to Charles de Gaulle's dream of a "single continent" which is connected not only geographically but also culturally and civilizationally.
"Russia is an integral part of Europe, and no matter the level of conflict between the West and its neighbour to the east, Russia cannot simply be wished away," echoes Jo Jakobsen. "Russian interests in and influence over large parts of Europe is a reality. This entails that coordination between the two parts, management of relations, and regular communication are key to the security and stability of Europe as a whole."
While the professor doesn't expect that the EU and Russia to immediately establish cordial relations, he believes that "these recent signals open up the way for a strengthening of dialogue and cooperation on a number of issues of joint concern where there is room for compromise."
The issues which could be apparently solved in this respect include the future of Ukraine, energy security, climate change, COVID-19, Iran’s nuclear program, stability in Libya, the future of Syria, and nuclear-weapons stability, according to the academic.
"What also needs to be coordinated far better in the near future are the overarching rules of the game in European security, encompassing not least cyberspace, troops movements and military exercises, and military-basing policies of both NATO and Russia itself," the Norwegian professor concludes.