Lithuania blocks EU-Russia strategic deal talks

April 30th, 2008 - 10:13 am ICT by admin  

DPA
Luxembourg, April 30 (DPA) Lithuania blocked the beginning of talks on a strategic deal between the European Union (EU) and Russia Tuesday because of ongoing disputes with Moscow, hours before EU officials were due to meet Russia’s foreign minister. The meeting between the EU’s presidency, currently held by Slovenia, the European Commission and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened to be stormy, with concerns over Russia’s decision to send more troops into the breakaway Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia also high on the agenda.

“We understand and are watching very carefully the situation in Georgia. Russia has an absolute responsibility not to violate the territorial integrity of a neighbouring state, but Georgia also has its responsibility,” Britain’s Minister for Europe Jim Murphy said.

Despite intense talks between the foreign ministers of the EU’s 27 member states in Luxembourg, Lithuania refused to approve a mandate under which the commission - the EU executive - would begin talks on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Russia.

Presidency officials are now set to travel to Lithuania to discuss the problems ahead of a planned EU-Russia summit in June, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told DPA.

Ahead of the meeting, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said that his country had four main objections to launching talks, and that the mandate proposed by the Slovenian government “is not satisfactory at the moment”.

Those objections dealt with Russia’s closure of the pipeline supplying Lithuania’s only oil refinery, its attitude towards judicial and international cooperation, and its treatment of Georgia.

Relations between the EU and Russia are currently governed by a PCA negotiated with the government of Boris Yeltsin in 1997.

The EU and Russia both want to draw up a new treaty, but the EU has so far failed to agree a mandate for talks.

Vaitiekunas resisted the pressure from all 26 of his EU colleagues, insisting that his country’s concerns be heard in a move which raised eyebrows even among traditional allies.

“Of course we share Lithuania’s worries and the problems they listed, but we also see that it’s better to talk with the Russians about all those problems to solve them,” Paet said.

“We support Lithuania’s position, in the sense that all four issues are also extremely important to Latvia, and I believe to the EU as a whole … At the same time, I personally believe that the best way to address those challenges is negotiations,” Latvian Foreign Minister Maris Riekstins said.

Lithuania is almost totally reliant on Russian energy supplies, strongly supports Georgia’s pro-Western government and says that Russia is harbouring men who committed atrocities against Lithuanian pro-independence activists in 1991.

But some observers point out that the largest of the Baltic states is also set to hold elections in October, with the party of Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas trailing in the polls - making the domestic political situation as important as the external one.
DPA

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