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10th Dec 2022

Europe lays aside quarrels to isolate Putin

  • The meeting in Prague castle was originally conceived by France (Photo: Nuno Dantas)
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"This meeting is a way of looking for a new order without Russia. It doesn't mean we want to exclude Russia forever, but this Russia, Putin's Russia, does not have a seat", EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said at Prague Castle, where dozens of European leaders met to showcase Russia's pariah status beyond EU capitals.

The 44 countries ranged from Iceland in Europe's far-west to Azerbaijan on its eastern fringe.

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They included the EU27 and Nato allies Norway, Turkey, and the UK, as well as neutral Switzerland. They also included EU-aspirant states from the Western Balkans and former Soviet Union — but not Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The new club-of-44, called the European Political Community (EPC), is a French project to draw allies closer in the face of Russian aggression. It is to meet at the level of ministers twice a year after its launch.

It is also meant to counter Kremlin propaganda that Russia is a victim of the US and EU and that Putin remains popular more broadly.

"All those who are gathered here know: Russia's attack on Ukraine is a brutal violation of the peace and security order that we had over the last decades in Europe," German chancellor Olaf Scholz said.

"The primary goal is that we all come together because the Russian war in Ukraine is affecting all of us in the security sense and also through our economies, through the rising energy costs," Latvian prime minister Krišjānis Kariņš added.

Some of those meeting in Prague, such as Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Serbian president Aleksandar Vučić have been much more Putin-friendly than EU hawks, despite Thursday's (6 October) declarations of solidarity.

The Czech prime minister and host, Petr Fiala, also begged the question on common values when he said the summit was "likeminded European democracies presenting a united front against Putin's brutality".

Azerbaijan is ruled by an authoritarian petro-dynasty, Serbia's Vučić has crushed the opposition, and Erdoğan has jailed tens of thousands of dissidents.

And while no one in the EPC has just invaded and carved up their peaceful neighbour, the way Putin did with Ukraine, the French club is brimful with bilateral disputes.

Armenia accused Azerbaijan of new war crimes days before the leaders met in the Czech Republic in their simmering conflict.

The summit placed Vučić in the same "family photo" as Kosovar president Vjosa Osmani, amid heightened security tensions on the border.

It also put Erdoğan next to Finnish and Swedish leaders, whom he accuses of harbouring Kurdish "terrorists" in a row on Nordic Nato accession.

But if the photo-ops masked divisions, the event was all the more a feat of diplomatic engineering for bringing the complex group together.

It was also an opportunity to bury hatchets. Finnish prime minister Sanna Marin said she would meet Erdoğan "if possible" to discuss Nato.

British diplomats hoped to warm up Dutch and French contacts on sensitive issues such as boat migrants and Northern Ireland customs arrangements.

"A post-Brexit Britain, as an independent country outside the EU, should be involved in discussions that affect the entire continent and all of us here at home," British prime minister Liz Truss said in The Times on Thursday.

EU countries the same day enacted an eighth round of sanctions on Russia, including new blacklists, an oil-price cap, and trade bans on its steel and forestry sectors in a further show of resolve.

"We don't accept that part of a neighbouring country [Ukraine] is annexed," Germany's Scholz said.

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