Wednesday

6th Jul 2022

Merkel criticises Russia on eve of Vilnius summit

  • Merkel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg earlier this year (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has criticised Russia's "Cold War" mentality and said Ukraine can still sign an EU pact, as EU leaders flock east for the Vilnius summit.

She is one of 20 or so EU heads of state or government, along with her British and French counterparts, going to the Lithuanian capital on Thursday (28 November) and Friday for the so-called Eastern Partnership event.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

But Germany's privileged economic relations with Russia, and Merkel's standing as the most powerful leader in the EU, make her words carry special weight.

Most of the six Eastern Partnership states - Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine - are also attending at the top level.

But Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, in a shock u-turn last week, said he will not sign an EU association and free trade treaty, citing Russian threats to cut off trade.

His signature was to have been the centrepiece of the summit.

In a sign of how much EU countries had wanted to make it happen, EU sources told EUobserver they were willing to do it even if he kept former PM Yulia Tymoshenko in jail.

"It means the Eastern Partnership is dead," one EU diplomat told this website.

"It's an insult to the EU and I don't see any point in Yanukovych going to Vilnius any more," he added.

For her part, Merkel played down the Ukraine fiasco at a pre-Vilnius press briefing in Berlin on Wednesday, however.

She accepted Yanukovych's statements - that his decision is "not a rejection of Europe, rather a postponement of the signature" - at face value.

She added: "We will continue to offer this agreement."

But she reserved harsh words for Russia.

With Armenia also backing out of an EU pact due to Russian threats, Merkel said: "The more they [post-Soviet countries] come closer to Europe, the more Russia sees it as distancing themselves from Russia."

"The EU and Germany have to talk to Russia. The Cold War is over," she noted.

She added: "These countries must and should decide for themselves [on EU integration] ... We need Russia. We import their gas. We have a common interest to see the Russian state modernise. But we must overcome the last relics of the Cold War."

A senior German official told journalists that if Ukraine changes its mind, it could qualify for €500 million of EU aid.

Poland's foreign minister, Radek Sikorski, echoed Merkel.

He said in Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Thursday that Yanukovych can sign after Vilnius.

He noted the EU will not enter a "bidding war" with Russia on Ukraine, adding: "We [EU states] are more attractive in civilisational and economic terms."

He also claimed the Eastern Partnership policy, his brainchild, is a success because it has "focused the attention" of EU leaders on the east.

He pointed out that a parallel project, the EU's Union for the Mediterranean, is, by comparison, genuinely defunct.

Meanwhile, the European Commission on Wednesday gave Moldova's pro-EU government a gift by proposing to extend visa-free travel to Moldovan citizens with biometric passports.

Home affairs commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom described it as "an encouragement for other eastern partners."

Moldova and Georgia are to initial association and free trade pacts with the EU in Vilnius.

The initialing - which marks the conclusion of negotiations - will be the only tangible result of the two-day meeting.

Some EU diplomats fear that following its demolition of the Ukraine treaty, Russia's next move will be to stop Georgia and Moldova from ever signing or implementing the pacts.

But Georgia's foreign minister, Maja Panjikidze, said in an op-ed for EUobserver on Thursday that "as Russian troops and barbed wire continue to encroach on our sovereignty, Georgia’s commitment to European and Euro-Atlantic integration stands stronger than ever."

The EU had hoped to also sign a "Strategic Modernisation Partnership" with petro-dictatorship Azerbaijan.

But the two sides could not agree language on human rights in time for Vilnius.

Belarus is to send its foreign minister, Vladimir Makei, after the EU took him off its visa-ban list so he could come.

One EU official said Makei's attendance could mean that Belarus wants to mend relations and might shortly free a few political prisoners.

But Belarus has punctured EU hopes time and again in the past 20 years of President Alexander Lukashenko's iron-fisted rule.

Opinion

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

News in Brief

  1. France to nationalise nuclear operator amid energy crisis
  2. Instant legal challenge after ok for 'green' gas and nuclear
  3. Alleged Copenhagen shooter tried calling helpline
  4. Socialist leader urges Czech PM to ratify Istanbul convention
  5. Scottish law chief casts doubt on referendum
  6. British PM faces mounting rebellion
  7. Russian military base near Finnish border emptied
  8. Euro slides to lowest level in two decades

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. Legal action looms after MEPs back 'green' nuclear and gas
  2. EU readies for 'complete Russian gas cut-off', von der Leyen says
  3. Rising prices expose lack of coherent EU response
  4. Keeping gas as 'green' in taxonomy vote only helps Russia
  5. 'War on Women' needs forceful response, not glib statements
  6. Greece defends disputed media and migration track record
  7. MEPs adopt new digital 'rule book', amid surveillance doubts
  8. 'World is watching', as MEPs vote on green finance rules

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us