The European leaders reject the idea of meeting with Russian leaders, although Germany and France say a top-level dialogue is the need of the hour.
For Germany and France, it’s time for European Union to seek direct talks with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, but the idea has drawn criticism from several leaders of the 27-member bloc.
Germany’s Angela Merkel does not see talks with Putin as an endorsement of Russian policies but rather an attempt to form “a united front against the [Russian] provocations,” pointing that reacting to Moscow's "provocations in an uncoordinated manner” was not enough.
"It is not enough for the American president to talk to the Russian president," she said, stressing that the European Union too "must also create different formats for talks,” referring to the US President’s meeting with Putin two weeks ago during the G7 summit.
French President Emmanuel Macron shares a similar view, saying the EU should be more proactive in its Russia diplomacy. According to him, the talks intend to revive "a dialogue to defend our (EU) interests."
Although several EU states, especially the ones in eastern Europe, brushed aside the suggestion of holding high-level talks with Russia, Merkel later said most of the states have agreed to develop a “dialogue format” with Moscow.
Selective engagement until Russia changes its policies
The last time Moscow had a summit with EU chiefs was in early 2014. Putin, who since then has been holding bilateral meetings with EU leaders, was open to re-launching EU level talks.
Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda was among the EU leaders happy that there will be no meetings at the European Union leaders' level with Russia.
"We see that the situation of our relations with Russia is deteriorating and we see new aggressive forms in behaviour of Russia," he said.
EU’s relations with Russia were strained after Russia's ‘illegal annexation’ of Crimea in 2014. But there are other compelling issues that make EU leaders wary of the proposed rapprochement
Another worrying factor for much of the European leadership is Putin's iron-fisted approach toward fellow Russians who oppose his policies.
The bloc previously reacted to a Russian court’s decision to outlaw groups that are linked to well-known Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny saying that it has no legal basis in Russia’s constitution.
Besides Crimea's annexation, outside Russia, the country’s support to rebels in eastern Ukraine is a move that disturbs the EU.
Moscow’s foreign policy steps including its intervention in Syria, later in Libya, and involvement in conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa also concern the EU.
Austria, who supported France and Germany's proposal, tweeted that "as a compromise, it is now to be clarified which dialogue channels can be useful."
Goes against the sanctions’ purposes
In 2014, the bloc started imposing sanctions on the country and expanded them the following year after shooting down an MH17 aircraft that flew over a territory controlled by rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The EU also recently imposed economic sanctions on Belarus, a Russian ally that often becomes a buffer between Moscow and NATO.
Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, reacted to the proposal to re-engage with Russia saying that it is a "dangerous deviation from EU sanctions policy."
With Russia’s Syria intervention in 2015, the course of the Syrian war has changed as Russian airstrikes pounded the rebel-held areas, creating a massive exodus of refugees that gripped Europe via Turkey.
The EU attempted to settle refugees who fled the war in its member countries and invited them to take responsibility, however, there is a huge gap between the number of refugees who were accepted to EU countries.
In Syria, there is only one major rebel-stronghold left that the country’s regime leader is eyeing to re-take. That would be only possible with the continuing support of Russian airstrikes in the region of around 4 million.
Europe is highly concerned about how to deal with a new influx of refugees, with Turkey objecting that it already has accepted a record number of refugees while some EU countries have accepted only a handful of people and are unwilling to accept more.
Among the EU countries, Germany hosts the most refugees, and possibly its willingness to restart EU level talks with Putin is to avoid a future scenario where it has to face another flow of refugees.