EU chief assumes Putin is disinformed about the war

File photo. Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (L) during their meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, 31 January 2018. [Kremlin pool/EPA/EFE]

European Council President Charles Michel made an effort to open Russian President Vladimir Putin’s eyes to his country’s losses in Ukraine and to the effect of sanctions in a phone call on Friday (22 April).

The phone call, in which both leaders spoke for about 90 minutes on Friday morning, followed Michel’s visit to Ukraine on Wednesday.

In his call with Putin, Michel reiterated the EU position “in a blunt and direct manner”, an EU official debriefed.

This included Michel conveying his reading of Russia‘s war miscalculations and losses to the Russian president, also “in part to penetrate the information vacuum that may exist around Putin”.

At the start of the war, Putin had announced he counted on his troops quickly seizing major cities, including Kyiv, and removing the Ukrainian government.

Over the course of the past weeks, Putin has repeatedly said the war was going “according to plan,” but with the loss of several Russian generals and no quick win in sight, pundits have questioned how well-informed Putin might be by his own staff about the war situation.

Additionally, the Russian armed forces’ poor performance has surprised military experts and analysts, who had predicted at the start of the war that the country’s massive military force would give it a quick win over Ukraine.

Michel also stressed in “no uncertain terms” the unacceptability of Russia’s war and detailed the sanction costs the EU is imposing on Russia, the EU official said.

Michel urged Putin to engage directly with his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and called for a ceasefire in Ukraine, according to the EU official, who added the EU chief had been asked to convey the message from Kyiv.

According to the Kremlin readout of the phone call, Putin in turn told the EU chief that he would only hold direct talks with his Ukrainian counterpart if ongoing discussions between the two countries produce concrete results.

Putin told Michel that Kyiv was showing that it was not ready to seek mutually acceptable solutions, and accused the Ukrainian side of being “inconsistent” in negotiations.

Michel also called for a ceasefire on the occasion of the upcoming Orthodox Easter and for safe passage for civilians seeking to leave besieged cities such as Mariupol.

“Strongly urged for immediate humanitarian access and safe passage from Mariupol and other besieged cities, all the more on the occasion of Orthodox Easter,” he wrote on Twitter after the call.

Ukraine accused Russian forces of failing to observe a local ceasefire agreement to allow women, children and elderly people to flee the besieged city.

The United Nations estimates five million people have fled Ukraine since the start of Russia’s invasion.

Michel said he “firmly reiterated the EU’s position: support for Ukraine and her sovereignty, condemnation and sanctions for Russia’s aggression.”

Beyond Ukraine, the phone call was also broadened to a discussion on mediation efforts between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.

A meeting between Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan had taken place earlier this month in Brussels, brokered by Michel.

However, over the past weeks, Russia has also made efforts to raise its profile n the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, with Pashinyan and Putin recently agreeing to intensify the tripartite cooperation between Armenia, Russia and Azerbaijan.

According to an announcement issued after that bilateral meeting, they did not discuss the so-called Brussels-brokered “peace treaty”.

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