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29 Apr, 2008 15:20

Lithuania blocks fresh Russia-EU talks

The European Union has failed to reach agreement on re-starting talks on a new partnership and co-operation agreement with Russia after Lithuania blocked the talks. The Baltic state is demanding assurances on energy security and other Russian policies.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is in Luxembourg for talks with EU officials. Speaking at a news conference, he said the sides discussed EU mandates for negotiations with Russia on a new fundamental treaty.

However, he said a few more weeks were needed to iron out existing difficulties.
“As I’ve already emphasised, we are prepared to engage in these negotiations. And we are hopeful that the EU will be equally prepared,” he said.

Earlier, Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that officials from Slovenia would travel to Lithuania to try to settle the issue.

In general, EU officials were positive about EU-Russia co-operation.

Slovenia’s Foreign Minister, Dmitrij Rupel, said that “it’s a very interesting moment” in relations between Moscow and Brussels.

“The Russian Federation has elected a new president. We’ve found some of the statements by the president elect, Medvedev, very important, positive and promising. We hope that our relations will continue in a positive, upward-looking way in the future,” he said.  

The previous Russia-EU agreement expired last December and talks to sign a new one were delayed because of differences between Russia and Poland. Warsaw vetoed the negotiations in response to a Russian ban on imports of Polish agricultural produce. According to the EU rules, if one of the member states blocks the talks, the whole process cannot move forward.

The dispute with Poland has since been resolved.

However, Lithuania has stepped in with a list of demands it wants to be met before the talks can begin. It says Moscow should first find a peaceful solution to the frozen conflicts in former Soviet republics of Georgia and Moldova.

Also, Vilnius has demanded Russia fix the Druzhba oil pipeline which serves the Baltic region. Russia turned the taps off in 2006 citing technical reasons, but Lithuania saw the move as politically motivated.

Now Vilnius is questioning Russia’s reliability as a supplier and wants a special section in the new agreement guaranteeing energy supplies.  

It was hoped the negotiations could begin this summer, during the Russia-EU summit in the Siberian city of Khanty-Mansiysk. Those talks have been thrown into doubt.

Ahead of the meeting in Luxemburg, officials in Moscow said the negotiations had been taken hostage by a state whose interest had very little or nothing to do with Russia-EU relations.