GRANADA, Spain (AP) — European leaders will gather Thursday at one of the most renowned havens of tranquility — Spain’s Alhambra Palace — in an attempt to fix their increasingly turbulent continent where war and political instability are starting to unhinge nations and institutions.
Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Aleksander Lukashenko of Belarus were not invited, but just about everyone else is expected to fly into southern Granada to assess the many wounds that have blighted Europe over the past months and years.
“Crises are everywhere,” said European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on the eve of the gathering.
One flareup — linked to the long-running conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia — is so recent that President Aliyev of Azerbaijan pulled out of the gathering at the last moment, when expectations had risen that a possible summit-within-the summit would unite key players and go-betweens in his country’s crisis with neighboring Armenia.
The humanitarian tragedy of some 100,000 Armenians fleeing Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan with a predominantly Armenian population, followed a brutal military operation last month and touched a raw nerve in Europe.
Omer Celik, spokesman for the party of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said Aliyev decided to stay away because Ankara was not invited to take part in the meeting on Azerbaijan and Armenia.
Instead, officials said that many leaders will be huddling with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to show backing for his government as it grapples with the humanitarian plight and try to lure Yerevan away from Moscow’s diplomatic grasp.
Pashinyan said he regretted that the summit-within-a-summit in Granada won’t happen, and added that he believed there had been a probability of signing “a breakthrough document” there.
Erdogan, whose nation was shaken by a suicide bombing close to the parliament on Sunday in the Turkish capital, Ankara, is another no-show. The Turkish air force has since been striking suspected Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, following the bombing.
Celik saying Erdogan had to prepare for his party’s extraordinary congress on Sunday and criticized that the mini-summit on Armenia and Azerbaijan would have excluded Erdogan.
“France will be present but our president won’t be at the table? Of course this was not acceptable for Aliyev and Azerbaijan,” Celik said. Paris is considered an ally of Armenia while Turkey backs Baku.
Anyhow, the limited time available in Granada will likely allow for few breakthroughs in Granada.
But the forum of the European Political Community will still be a rare occasion where leaders of rival nations such as Serbia and Kosovo will be gathered in one plenary room.
A myriad of other European issues are likely to come up during a day of talks in Spain, capped with a royal dinner and tour at the famed Moorish Alhambra Palace.
The hilltop’s famed architectural gem with its soothing ripples of water and the gentle splash from its fountains has traditionally been known to calm nerves. In Europe’s halls of politics these days, serenity is hard to come by.
Attention also will focus on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who is widely expected to make a trip from his war-ravaged nation to drum up more support and money from Western allies.
That has become all the more important after Congress hastily sent President Joe Biden legislation over the weekend that kept the federal government funded but left off billions in funding for Ukraine’s war effort that the White House had vigorously backed.
Biden called other world powers Tuesday to coordinate on Ukraine in a deliberate show of U.S. support at a time when the future of its aid is questioned by an important faction of Republicans who want to cut off money to Kyiv. Most European leaders have since insisted their support for Ukraine is unwavering.
The brainchild of the 27-nation European Union, the forum coming together in Granada is already in its third edition in just a year and is seen as an attempt to keep nations that are not yet ready for membership closely involved for cooperation in other ways.
So many are seeking membership or the closest possible relationship with the EU that it has left the bloc itself in a quandary — how can it grow further without being fundamentally changed or forcing changes upon itself so that a union can still function smoothly.
That dilemma will be front and center on Friday, the second day of the summit, when EU leaders will continue their discussions just among bloc members.
Casert reported from Brussels. Associated Press writers Dasha Litvinova in Talinn, Estonia; Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turke, contributed to this report.