Frustrated Europeans say we’re not absent from Russia, U.S. talks

European Union countries' foreign ministers meet in Brest
A member of a delegation walks past the logo of the 6-month French presidency of the European Union during European Union foreign ministers' informal meeting (Gymnich) in Brest, western France, January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

January 13, 2022

By Ardee Napolitano and John Irish

BREST, France (Reuters) – European ministers bemoaned on Thursday a perception that they had been left isolated after Russia held talks with the United States and NATO over the future of the continent and said that Washington had never coordinated as much with the EU as now.

Consultations involving U.S. and Russian officials continued in Vienna on Thursday at the 57-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after ministerial talks between Moscow and Washington in Geneva on Tuesday and between Russia and NATO in Brussels on Wednesday failed to yield clear progress.

Russia has amassed troops near its border with Ukraine, alarming the European Union (EU) and the West as a whole. While denying claims from Washington that it is preparing an invasion, Moscow is seeking a string of security guarantees, including a halt to the Atlantic military alliance’s eastward expansion.

Traumatised by the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, where it did not coordinate with its allies, European states fear they could be bypassed and their security concerns ignored as Russia seeks to deal directly with Washington.

As talks took place in Vienna, EU foreign ministers symbolically met almost 2,000 kilometres away in the western French city of Brest seeking to downplay their absence over the last few days and stress their unity and coordination with Washington.

“All the criticism I’ve heard over the last few days that Europe doesn’t exist, is not present, has been cast aside and is not at the table – excuse me, but it doesn’t have much basis,” the EU’s top policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters.

“I assure you that the coordination with U.S. is excellent, better than ever” he said. “Russia wants to divide us, and the U.S. isn’t going to play this game.”

Speaking alongside him, France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian echoed his comments, saying Europe was at the forefront of negotiations to revive peace talks in eastern Ukraine and would not be sidelined by unacceptable Russian demands.

Referring to the conference between World War Two Allied powers in February 1945 held in Yalta that gave the Soviet Union control over its eastern European neighbours, Le Drian said Russia needed to move away from that logic.

“If Russia’s desire is to return to Yalta, because when you look at the fundamentals of Russia’s two proposals it is a return to a logic of blocs and pre-1990, then it’s not acceptable for us,” Le Drian said.

“But if behind this gesture there is a desire to build something else, then let’s continue talking because we want stability in Europe.”

(Reporting by John Irish in Paris, Sabine Siebold in Berlin and Robin Emmott in Brussels; Additional reporting by Ardee Napolitano in Brest; Editing by Hugh Lawson)