French president Emmanuel Macron has called on the EU to forge its own plan for “security and stability” with Russia, in a move that risks undermining western solidarity in the face of Kremlin aggression towards Ukraine.
In a speech to the European Parliament, Macron called for EU states to “conduct their own dialogue” with Russia rather than support diplomatic efforts led by the US and Nato, in sharp contrast to a plea from US secretary of state Antony Blinken for “unity”.
Macron said that despite the joint EU-US diplomacy, Europeans had to offer Russia a solution to de-escalate tensions with Moscow in the “coming weeks”.
“We should build as Europeans working with other Europeans and with Nato and then propose it for negotiation with Russia,” he told MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday. “It is good that Europeans and the United States co-ordinate, but it is necessary that Europeans conduct their own dialogue.”
Emmanuel Macron speaks at the European Parliament on Wednesday © Jean-Francois Badias/AP
Macron’s intervention is the first example of public dissent between Nato members since the US first warned of a potential Russian attack on Ukraine more than two months ago.
It also breaks a united front between the EU and US on Russia, forged by what officials have described as unprecedented levels of diplomatic outreach by the US to engage Brussels in the dialogue with Moscow.
Speaking during a visit to Kyiv on Wednesday, Blinken stressed the need for a unified approach ahead of his planned meeting with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Friday.
“The strength of our diplomacy, our deterrence and any response to Moscow’s aggression demands unity among allies and partners, as well as within Ukraine,” he warned.
Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, also seemingly sought to drive a wedge between the US and its Nato and European allies on Wednesday, pushing back against broader multinational talks and saying Moscow would prefer to deal primarily with the US.
“We would prefer to find an understanding and do a deal with the Americans foremost. Bringing in too broad a circle of countries into these process seems counterproductive to us,” he said.
Russia has long sought to sideline the EU in favour of negotiating with individual countries and Macron’s call for a separate negotiation track will probably lead to questions regarding the level of western consensus behind the White House’s efforts to avert war through diplomacy.
The EU is struggling to reach agreement on what level of aggression from Russia towards Ukraine should trigger imposing sanctions, amid diverging levels of appetite for imposing measures against Moscow among its members.
Russia has amassed around 100,000 troops on its border with Ukraine and threatened an unspecified “military-technical response” if security alliance Nato does not roll back its forces and pledge never to admit Ukraine.
Blinken, who met with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia could “in short order” double its 100,000-plus force at various locations close to its border with Ukraine.
“That gives President [Vladimir] Putin the capacity also on very short notice to take further aggressive action against Ukraine,” Blinken said. “I strongly, strongly hope we can keep this on a diplomatic and peaceful path, but ultimately this is President Putin’s decision.”
Blinken repeated warnings that Russia would face crippling sanctions if it further invaded Ukraine, having annexed Crimea in 2014 and since then fuelled a war in the country’s eastern Donbas region.
Ryabkov on Wednesday described the security situation in Europe as “critical”, but said Russia would “not attack, strike, invade, quote-unquote whatever, Ukraine”.
Blinken will travel to Berlin on Thursday before meeting with Lavrov. The Geneva meeting follows talks last week between Russia, the US and Nato, which Moscow described as a “dead end” after its security demands, including for Ukraine’s Nato membership bid to be rejected, were ruled out.