Germany has called for greater co-operation with Russia on climate change in a contentious new effort to restore frayed EU ties with Moscow.

The European bloc should develop a “concrete and detailed strategy” on global warming as part of a broader attempt to “selectively engage” the Kremlin, according to a document drawn up by Berlin ahead of EU leaders’ talks on Russia this month.

The German proposal highlights deepening EU internal divisions over how to handle Russia. The detention of poisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny has put further strain on a relationship hobbled since Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 and the European bloc retaliated with economic sanctions.

While some EU capitals including Paris have favoured engaging with Moscow, a growing group of member states including the Baltic countries and Poland see it as unrealistic and unwise in the face of the Kremlin’s behaviour.

“While a fundamental change in Russia’s foreign policy appears unrealistic in the short term, managing our challenging relationship with Russia must remain a key foreign policy priority of the European Union,” states the new German document, which has been seen by the Financial Times. “At the same time, the EU has to forcefully seize opportunities to push Russia towards taking more responsibility for global goods such as security, conflict resolution, climate, environment, health, trade or migration.”

The German proposal is an unsigned and undated “non-paper”, which EU countries use to air ideas without having to take formal responsibility for them. A German official said the government did not comment on alleged leaks as a matter of principle. 

The document accuses Russia of violations of international law, a clampdown on civil society, and campaigns to influence neighbouring states and use propaganda and cyber attacks to “divide Europeans”.

But it also notes that Russia has an “indispensable”, if “often difficult”, role in various global policy fields, meaning the EU had a “vital interest” in stable and predictable relations. Scope exists for possible engagement with Moscow on conflicts in the Middle East and north Africa, global environmental and health problems, and economic themes such as digitalisation, hydrogen power and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union alliance, the document states.

The EU should seek, in particular, to “develop structured, concrete and detailed strategy on how to engage Russia in multilateral efforts to fight climate change”, according to the first of three points for immediate action proposed by the document. The other two are to start high-level EU-US consultations on Russia and to set up a Russia civil society fund to finance projects involving non-governmental groups in the country, the EU and the six nations in the European bloc’s “Eastern Partnership” initiative — Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Moldova.

“While so far not a policy priority for Russia, environmental disasters and climate change effects felt in its territory become increasingly relevant for Russia’s population and thus for the government,” the document states, adding that the European bloc should approach Moscow “at a time of our own choosing”. 

The hopes for greater co-operation contrast with the EU’s imposition of new sanctions on Russia last week over the Navalny case and an official crackdown on street protests against his treatment. The Kremlin also triggered an outcry in Brussels and some European capitals last month over its expulsion of three European diplomats and its aggressive posture during a trip to Moscow by Josep Borrell, EU foreign policy chief. 

Critics of Berlin say its policy towards Moscow is compromised by its participation in the almost-complete Nord Stream 2 project to pipe gas from Russia to Germany. 

The German document carries echoes of a controversial 2019 proposal by Markus Ederer, EU ambassador to Moscow, for “enhanced co-ordination” with Russia in areas from 5G mobile communication to personal data protection to combat China’s growing influence in Eurasia. 

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Moscow