European Union officials hoped Monday to make progress on a key deal with Russia during a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels devoted largely to the bloc's eastern neighbors, reported dpa.
"I think the (negotiating) mandate (for a deal) that will benefit both the EU and Russia will be approved today," said Javier Solana, the EU's top foreign policy official.
At times prickly relations with Russia are currently governed by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), agreed in 1997 and intended to run for 10 years.
The strategic deal being negotiated at the moment would replace the PCA.
A breakthrough on the issue was obtained by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, after Lithuania agreed to withdraw its veto in protest at Russia's closure of the main oil pipeline into Lithuania, its treatment of Georgia and its refusal to hand over men suspected of committing atrocities in Lithuania in 1991.
EU ministers were also expected to hear about Polish plans for establishing closer ties with Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Backed by Sweden and blessed by heavyweights France and Germany, the so-called Eastern Partnership comes on the back of plans for strengthening the EU's ties with its southern neighbours through a Union for the Mediterranean.
"This year is the Mediterranean year, next year would be the eastern year," said the Czech deputy prime minister for European affairs, Alexander Vondra, whose country takes over the rotating presidency of the EU on January 1, 2009.
Another major issue up for discussion is the EU's EU-Lex law mission in Kosovo.
The mission was originally meant to take over the administration of the newly-independent country from the United Nations on June 15.
But EU officials now concede that legal and logistical difficulties mean that deadline is unrealistic.
"EU-Lex is going slowly but surely," said Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, who chaired Monday's meeting as current EU president.