BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s foreign policy chief urged President Vladimir Putin to adopt a “radical change in attitude” and begin cooperating as EU leaders gathered to map out a long-term strategy for dealing with an economically wounded Russia.
Federica Mogherini said the financial crisis hitting Moscow as a result of falling oil prices and Western sanctions was “not good news” and was adding to dangerous global instability. She spoke as she arrived on Thursday at an EU summit in Brussels.
“President Putin and the Russian leadership should reflect seriously about the need for introducing a radical change in attitude toward the rest of the world and to switch to a cooperative mode,” she said after Putin defended the actions in Ukraine this year that some fear presage a new Cold War.
“The world has never been as dangerous and unstable as it is now,” said Mogherini, who will brief leaders on her discussions in Kiev this week with the Ukrainian leadership. “It would be only good news if we managed to build a constructive relationship.”
At a three-hour end-of-year news conference in Moscow, Putin accused the West of building a “virtual” Berlin Wall to contain Russia and assured voters the Russian economy would recover.
Summit host Donald Tusk, the new president of the leaders’ European Council, said it was vital for stability on the bloc’s eastern borders to discuss relations with Moscow.
“The situation is really dramatic and very dynamic and of course ... demands immediate reactions,” said Tusk, who was until earlier this year prime minister of Poland and a strong supporter of Ukraine in its confrontation with Moscow.
He noted the tightening of economic sanctions earlier in the day against investments in Ukraine’s Russian-annexed Crimea - measures Moscow described as “unacceptable”.
“We will not find a long-term solution for Ukraine without an adequate and consistent, both tough and responsible, strategy toward Russia,” Tusk told reporters as he arrived to chair his first EU summit
Some hawks among Moscow’s former satellites in eastern Europe have expressed concern that fear of provoking Putin and worries about the effect of Russia’s financial crisis on other European economies could prompt EU powers to ease sanctions or pull back from political and economic support for Kiev.
But diplomats have said leaders, who will discuss Russia and Ukraine over dinner, have no consensus on either rolling back sanctions that will last until summer or in imposing new ones.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Mogherini’s boss when she was foreign minister, is among those concerned not to worsen East-West relations. He said: “Absolutely no to new sanctions.”
French President Francois Hollande said: “If Russia sent the signals we expect there’s no reason to take new sanctions and we also are going to look how we could engage in a desescalation.”
Tusk, who will open the summit with a request to endorse a new EU investment plan to stimulate growth, said the cash-strapped bloc should step up its help for Ukraine.
“Today we should send a strong signal on our readiness to further support Ukraine also financially as we have done politically,” said Tusk, who diplomats believe may play a more vocal role in pushing EU leaders on foreign policy than his consensus-focused Belgian predecessor Herman Van Rompuy.
“For me, it’s clear that a modern, stable, independent Ukraine must be the foundation of this new strategy,” he added of the prospect of a longer-term stance toward Moscow.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the new head of the EU executive the European Commission, stressed, however, that the bloc was “reaching its budgetary limits” on assistance to Kiev.
Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Francesco Guarascio; editing by Ralph Boulton