A European Union flag is seen in front of the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, July 7, 2020. (PHOTO / XINHUA)
As expected, the phone call between Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday was fruitless.
With the Russian leader unequivocally expressing his openness to further negotiations with the Ukrainian side, the two European leaders should have taken the opportunity to extend their support for the talks, which have ground to a halt.
But with the Special Meeting of the European Council being held on Monday and Tuesday focusing on the Ukraine crisis and its effects, the French and German leaders seemed intent on making their talks with Putin a last-minute effort to secure some concessions from the Russian side.
They demanded Russia withdraw its military forces, return the 2,500 fighters for Ukraine who were holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol and later surrendered to the Russian army, and release the more than 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain exports that are stuck in the ports of the Black Sea locked by the Russian navy. They offered nothing in exchange. There was no mention of lifting the Western sanctions on Russia or ceasing to provide weapons for Ukraine.
If the French and German leaders viewed their direct dialogue with the Russian leader as an opportunity to probe the extent to which Moscow is still willing to pursue its "special military operation", they will have been left in no doubt that its resolve hasn't waned.
This will undoubtedly spur the European Council to seek consensus on adopting a tougher line against Russia in its two-day special meeting, at which the Ukrainian president is to deliver an impassioned speech to steer it in "the right" direction.
Thus, the phone call on Saturday was merely symbolic for peace but substantial in terms of the promise of further confrontation and division on the European continent.
As the agenda of the meeting indicates, the European Union is already expecting to come up with specific ways to accelerate the phasing out of its dependency on Russian energy and coping with the food shortages created by the conflict, while continuously increasing its support to Ukraine and the spending on its own defense.
Ironically, one of the aims of the meeting is to bolster the EU's ambition for a strong, coordinated European defense, which would be best served by addressing Russia's concerns and working to establish a pan-European security architecture.
When a mussel clamps the beak of a hungry crane that wants to eat it, it is the fisherman that can easily catch them both. This is what is happening in Europe, as it is the United States, the key instigator of the crisis, that is the main beneficiary.
Regrettably, as the conflict in Ukraine draws to its 100th day this coming Friday, Saturday's phone talks have in all likelihood served to aggravate rather than end the crisis.