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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Summit Takes Back Seat To a Prize

The European Union's top diplomat may skip a Russia-EU summit for the first time to accept an award that has previously been bestowed upon Winston Churchill, Bill Clinton and the euro.

Javier Solana's announcement Wednesday dealt a fresh blow to attempts to salvage Friday's summit, already in disarray due to gaping differences between Russia and the EU.

Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, will accept the Charlemagne Prize at a ceremony in the German town of Aachen on Thursday, his spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.

"If he can, he will fly out Thursday night to get to Samara in time," Gallach said by telephone.

Talks at the one-day summit start at 11 a.m. Friday at the resort of Volzhsky Utyos, outside Samara.

Gallach stressed that the summit remained on Solana's agenda but said he just could not guarantee his participation.

Word that Solana might not come broke Wednesday morning during a news conference with Sergei Yastrzhembsky, President Vladimir Putin's liaison to the EU. Yastrzhembsky sought to put on a brave face.

"There will be no Solana at the summit because he will be getting Germany's highest award on the 17th, and many high-ranking politicians will be attending," Yastrzhembsky said.

He said the date for the award ceremony had been set before the date of the summit.

Skipping the summit could further strain the EU's relations with the Kremlin, which have spiraled to unprecedented post-Cold War lows in recent months. The crisis prompted Germany, which holds the rotating EU presidency, to send its foreign minister on a last-ditch visit to Moscow on Tuesday.

A no-show would look like a demarche aimed at demonstrating the uselessness of the summit, said Alexander Khramchikhin, analyst with the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. "Officials of Solana's rank usually don't miss events of this level for private purposes," he said.

Solana's post within the EU obliges him to participate in all summits with Russia, said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the Russia in Global Affairs journal, noting that he had not missed one yet.

Sean Caroll, spokesman for the EU's delegation to Russia, confirmed that the foreign policy chief generally was supposed to attend all EU summits.

Solana's spokeswoman, however, was adamant that there were no political implications.

"It is a question of pure logistics," she said, referring to the distance between Germany and Samara, which lies on the Volga River more than 1,000 kilometers southeast of Moscow. "The Charlemagne Prize is always awarded on Ascension Day, and both the Russians and the German government know that."

Gallach went on to explain that the ceremony would last a long time and that Solana as the guest of honor could not possibly leave early, especially since such high-ranking figures as King Juan Carlos of Spain would be in attendance. Solana is Spanish.

The award ceremony will begin at 11:15 a.m. and last around two hours, an Aachen City Hall spokeswoman said. Guests will then attend a reception, which will last until after 2 p.m. Solana arrived with his family in Aachen on Wednesday afternoon and they were scheduled to attend a banquet in the evening.

The Charlemagne Prize, first awarded in 1950, is given for "most valuable contribution in the services of Western European understanding and work for the community." Churchill received it in 1955 and Clinton in 2000. The only non-person to win was the euro in 2002. Last year it was awarded to Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who will speak at Thursday's ceremony.

The decision on the award is made by a 17-member panel, including local lawmakers and an official of the Roman Catholic Church, and is published each December. Solana is being honored for his outstanding work "for a substantial European contribution for a safer and fairer world."

Among the European leaders still expected to join President Vladimir Putin on Friday are German Chancellor Angela Merkel, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.