PRAGUE– Leaders from across Europe hailed their united front against Russia’s war on Ukraine on Thursday at a summit that also saw the leaders of former foes Turkey and Armenia meet face to face. face for the first time since agreeing last year to put decades of bitterness behind them. .
The inaugural summit of the European Political Community brought together the 27 member countries of the European Union, aspiring partners in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as well as neighbors such as Britain, the only country to have left the EU.
Russia was the only major European power not invited to the Prague Castle rally with Belarus, its neighbor and supporter in the war against Ukraine; a conflict that is fueling an energy crisis and high inflation that is ravaging European economies.
“The leaders leave this summit with a greater collective determination to resist Russian aggression. What we saw in Prague is a strong demonstration of solidarity with Ukraine and for the principles of freedom and democracy,” said British Prime Minister Liz Truss.
His Belgian counterpart, Alexander De Croo, said: “If you just look at the attendance here, you see the importance. The whole European continent is here, except for two countries: Belarus and Russia. So that shows how isolated these two countries are.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the fallout from the war was something they all had in common.
“It affects us all safety-wise, and it affects us all through our savings, through rising energy costs. So the only way to manage this is to work together, and not just with the European Union. All European countries must work together,” he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was in Prague for the meeting, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the leaders via video link.
“There are no representatives of Russia with us here – a state that seems to belong geographically to Europe, but from the point of view of its values and behavior is the most anti-European state in the world “, said Zelenskyy.
“We are now in a strong position to order all possible European powers to end the war and secure long-term peace,” he said. “For Ukraine, for Europe, for the world.”
The new forum is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron and is backed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. They say it should aim to boost security and prosperity across the continent.
Critics say the new forum is an attempt to hold back EU enlargement. Others fear it will become a discussion store, meeting perhaps once or twice a year but devoid of any real influence or content.
“We will never accept (a situation) where this platform harms our accession negotiations,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters. “We expect the European Political Community to help strengthen and contribute to our relationship with the EU.”
But the host of the event, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, said it was a success.
“We are not replacing existing cooperation formats. We have not adopted any official resolution. We just feel the need to have a space for an informal exchange of views on current events in Europe and beyond,” Fiala told reporters. He said the next meeting would be in Moldova, followed by others in Spain and the UK.
The summit created space for a series of meetings. Erdogan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held historic talks. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was also present at what appeared to be an informal meeting of the three leaders.
Turkey and Armenia, which do not have diplomatic relations, agreed last year to begin talks aimed at putting decades of enmity behind them and reopening their common border. Special envoys appointed by the two countries have held four rounds of talks since then.
Truss, Macron and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte held talks on migration, as the UK seeks additional help to stop migrants reaching its shores without permission. Macron was even cautiously optimistic that the EU and UK might be able to put their Brexit differences behind them.
“I hope this is a new phase in our joint relationship and it’s the start of the next day,” he told reporters.
Macron listed topics the leaders agreed to work on between now and the next summit in Moldova, including protecting “key facilities” like pipelines, undersea cables, satellites. “We need a European strategy to protect them,” he said, after two gas pipelines in the Baltic Sea were apparently sabotaged.
But some old enmities have also found a new forum for expression. Referring to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Erdogan said “a certain gentleman was very disturbed” by his remarks during a meeting. Erdogan also criticized Greek leadership in Cyprus.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.