Baltic politicians have lashed out at French and German leaders for discussing with Russian president Vladimir Putin how to unblock Ukrainian ports, highlighting the diverging views among western allies over how to handle diplomacy with Moscow.
Leaders in eastern Europe have grown uneasy about the willingness of their western European counterparts to talk with Putin, reigniting suspicion that some EU countries are pushing Kyiv to cede territory to end the war.
“It is incredible how the leaders of France and Germany are inadvertently paving the way for new acts of violence by Russia . . . How is it possible neither Paris nor Berlin have learned from history? Why is it presumed that Putin, currently waging a war on a major European people, intends to keep any promise?” asked Marko Mihkelson, head of the Estonian parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
Artis Pabriks, Latvia’s deputy prime minister, said on Twitter: “It seems that there are number of so-called Western leaders who possess explicit need for self-humiliation in combination with total detachment from political reality.”
German chancellor Olaf Scholz and French president Emmanuel Macron held a 80-minute phone call with Putin on Saturday in which the Russian president told them Moscow was willing to find ways to unblock grain exports from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports and could increase its own fertiliser and agriculture exports if relevant sanctions are lifted.
It came two days after Italian prime minister Mario Draghi also discussed the issue with Putin in an attempt to ease a global food crisis that threatens developing countries in particular.
There is a growing rift between many eastern European countries and the likes of Germany and France over the wisdom of speaking to Putin as the war enters into its fourth month. The Baltic countries believe such phone calls merely empower Putin, and that instead Europe should send more weapons to Ukraine.
In the past three days, hundreds of ordinary Lithuanians crowdfunded €5mn to buy a Turkish military drone for Ukraine, according to the internet broadcaster Laisves TV, which started the fundraising.
Mihkelson, invoking a phrase that Macron previously used to describe Nato, asked if the French and German leaders were not “being brain-dead” in their actions.
He added: “Macron and Scholz should hang up the phone and book a trip to Ukraine post haste. I hope their peculiar actions are not motivated by fear of losing influence in democratic Europe which Ukraine would surely enter after winning the war.”
Gabrielius Landsbergis, Lithuania’s foreign minister, said on Sunday that Russia “must be isolated” as countries around the world including India, Australia, Japan, South Korea and “little Taiwan” were watching what happened in Ukraine with anxiety. “Giving the occupier a chance to occupy territory means that it can be repeated elsewhere,” he added.
Putin, Scholz and Macron discussed whether a negotiated solution could be found to open Odesa to allow grain exports to leave Ukraine, according to an Elysée briefing after the call.
The French and German leaders “noted the Russian president’s promise to allow ships to access the port to export grain without it being used militarily by Russia — if the port was demined in advance”, according to the briefing.
Some western capitals fear the looming food crisis and its devastating impact on poor households in Africa and the Middle East could trigger a new wave of migration to Europe.
Kristi Raik, head of the Estonian Foreign Policy Institute, said that the French and German leaders risked giving legitimacy to “Putin’s lies and unacceptable demands”.
She added: “I don’t share the view that no Western leader should ever talk to Putin. But the way Macron and Scholz are doing it is not just unhelpful, it is deeply counterproductive.”