Don't block Russia talks, EU leaders warn Lithuania, Poland

Business Materials 7 November 2008 20:54 (UTC +04:00)

Lithuania and Poland should bow to the majority of European Union member states and approve the immediate relaunch of talks on a strategic deal with Russia, despite their own security concerns, top EU officials warned Friday, reported dpa.

The decision to restart talks "may not be 100 per cent what your feelings are, but it's better for you to be together with all the other (EU) states in expressing a view rather than having some countries making agreements with Russia and others not," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.

"If we don't have EU-Russia negotiations, do you think anyone wouldn't negotiate with Russia? Would it be in Lithuania's or Poland's interest to have other countries reaching bilateral agreements with Russia?" he asked.

Following Russia's August war with Georgia, EU leaders decided to postpone talks on the so-called "New EU-Russia Agreement," meant to give their relationship a legally-binding basis, until Russian troops pulled back to pre-conflict lines.

Despite numerous reports from observers and diplomats that Russian troops have not completed such a pull-out, Sarkozy insisted on Friday that they had done so - leaving the EU open to restart talks.

"Do we have to create a crisis between Europe and Russia? It doesn't seem very reasonable to me," he told a Polish journalist after a meeting with EU counterparts.

On Monday, EU foreign ministers are set to debate whether the bloc should reopen talks with Russia ahead of a November 14 summit with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, which Sarkozy is to host.

The French president is keen to win Russian backing for his proposals for financial reform, which he is set to present to a global summit on the financial crisis one day later.

But Poland and Lithuania say that Russia has both failed to live up to its pledge to pull back to pre-war lines. Furthermore, they say Russia has directly threatened their security by planning to site missiles in the exclave of Kaliningrad on their border.

Usually, EU decisions on foreign policy can only be taken by unanimity, giving the two states a chance to block any move.

But Barroso and Sarkozy insisted that the European Commission, the EU's executive, is already mandated to continue talks - a statement observers interpret as a coded warning to the newcomers.