PRAGUE (AP) — Leaders across Europe hailed on Thursday their united front against Russia’s war on Ukraine at a summit that also saw the heads of old foes Turkey and Armenia meet face-to-face for the first time since they agreed last year to put decades of bitterness behind them.
The inaugural summit of the European Political Community brought together the 27 European Union member countries, aspiring partners in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, as well as neighbors like Britain — the only country to have left the EU.
Russia was the one major European power not invited to the gathering at Prague Castle along with Belarus, its neighbor and supporter in the war against Ukraine; a conflict fueling an energy crisis and high inflation that are wreaking havoc on Europe's economies.
“Leaders leave this summit with greater collective resolve to stand up to Russian aggression. What we have seen in Prague is a forceful show of solidarity with Ukraine, and for the principles of freedom and democracy,” said U.K. Prime Minister Liz Truss.
Her 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 two countries: Belarus and Russia. So it shows how isolated those two countries are.”
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said the fallout from the war is something they all have in common.
“It’s affecting all of us in the security sense, and its affecting all of us through our economies, through the rising energy costs. So the only way that we can handle this is working together, and not just the European Union. All the European countries need to work together,” he said.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal was in Prague for the meeting, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed the leaders by video link.
“There are no representatives of Russia with us here — a state that geographically seems to belong to Europe, but from the point of view of its values and behavior is the most anti-European state in the world,” Zelenskyy said.
“We are now in a strong position to direct all possible powers of Europe to end the war and guarantee 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 claim the new forum is an attempt to put the brakes on EU enlargement. Others fear it may become a talking shop, perhaps convening once or twice a year but devoid of any real clout or content.
“We will never accept (a situation) where this platform brings harm to our accession negotiations,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters. “Our expectation is for the European Political Community to help strengthen and contribute to our relations with the EU.”
But the host of the event, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala, said it had been a success.
“We don’t replace existing formats of cooperation. We did not adopt any official resolution. We just feel the need of having space for informal exchange of views on ongoing events in Europe and beyond,” Fiala told reporters. He said the next meeting will be held in Moldova, then others in Spain and the U.K.
The summit did create space for a series of meetings. Erdogan and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan held landmark talks. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev was also present at what appeared to be an informal gathering of the three leaders.
Turkey and Armenia, which have no diplomatic relations, agreed last year to start talks aimed at putting decades of enmity behind them and reopen their joint 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 U.K. seeks further help in preventing migrants from reaching its shores without authorization. Macron was even cautiously optimistic that the EU and the U.K. might be able to be put their Brexit differences behind them.
“I do hope this is a new phase of our common relations and that this is the beginning of the day after,” he told reporters.
Macron listed topics on which leaders agreed to work by 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 also found a new forum to air themselves in. Referring to Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, Erdogan said that “a certain gentleman became very disturbed” by his remarks in one meeting. Erdogan was also critical of the Greek leadership in Cyprus.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.