Italy and Hungary have urged the EU to call explicitly for a ceasefire in Ukraine and peace talks with Russia, putting themselves at odds with other member states determined to take a hard line with Moscow ahead of a summit next week.
A draft concluding statement for the May 30-31 summit, seen by Reuters and dated May 19, describes the European Union as "unwavering in its commitment to help Ukraine exercise its inherent right of self-defence against the Russian aggression." It does not mention peace talks.
At a meeting of EU envoys on Friday, Italy's ambassador proposed changes to the text saying it should refer to peace talks and set out an immediate ceasefire as one of the EU's first goals, according to people who attended the meeting.
That proposal was backed by Hungary and Cyprus, which are among the states most critical of a new package of EU sanctions against Russia that has been blocked for weeks because of internal divisions.
Hungary opposes a planned oil embargo, while Cyprus has concerns about a proposed ban on property sales to Russian citizens.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in a speech at the Davos forum on Tuesday, took a hawkish stand on Russia and made no mention of peace talks. "Ukraine must win this war, and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's aggression must be a strategic failure," she said.
The latest draft of the summit conclusions says the EU "remains committed to bolstering the ability of Ukraine to defend its territorial integrity and sovereignty."
Baltic countries and Poland are among the strongest supporters of a hard line, and Latvia has urged even more explicit wording for increased military support, diplomats said. A revised draft is due later on Wednesday after a meeting of EU envoys, one diplomat said.
Italy last week proposed a peace plan that would involve the United Nations, the EU and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe as facilitators to initially arrange localised ceasefires.