Lithuania has pledged to continue blocking negotiations for a strategic deal between the EU and Russia because of unresolved disputes with Moscow. Other European countries, however, are stepping up the pressure.
The EU wants a new pact with Russia
The European Union had hoped a meeting of its foreign ministers in Luxembourg would produce a green light for partnership talks with Russia. Yet at the end of the meeting, it seemed unlikely that Europe would be ready to begin talks at a summit in Siberia planned for June.
"It is over for today," Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn told reporters as the EU foreign ministers' talks ended on Tuesday, April 29. "We are a bit blocked."
Lithuania was the main obstacle standing in the way of beginning Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) negotiations with Russia. The former Soviet republic wanted Russian assurances on energy supplies, judicial cooperation and regional security before agreeing to the talks.
The EU will try to push forward the partnership talks, which have been deadlocked for 18 months, at a meeting next week in Brussels. Europe would like to have a mandate in place by a planned June summit with Russia which will be held in Siberia.
Siberian summit cutting it close
Lithuania had promised to block the talks
Lithuanian officials would not say whether they thought the June timeline remained possible.
"I don't want to put any timeframe on the talks or the objectives," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said. "What is important is ... the quality of the objectives and the quality of the relations with Russia."
Vilnius has a tense relationship with Moscow. Lithuania objects to Russia's decision to shut-off of a pipeline supplying Lithuania's only oil refinery. Moscow has said a technical problem has led to the halt in energy deliveries. Lithuania is also unhappy about Russia's attitude toward judicial and international cooperation.
The Baltic country also wants Russia to change its stance on internal border conflicts in Georgia and Moldova. Russia has supported the territorial claims of breakaway republics in both countries.
Europe eager for new energy policy
The current EU-Russia agreement was signed under Yeltsin
Current relations between the EU and Russia on issues ranging from energy to education are governed by a PCA negotiated with the government of Boris Yeltsin in 1997. Europe has found it difficult to negotiate a replacement agreement.
Originally, it was Poland that blocked talks to protest a Russian import ban on Polish meat and vegetable products. The ban has since been lifted and Poland agreed to the talks, leaving Lithuania the only EU holdout. Any EU country can block negotiations with another country outside the bloc.
"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," Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said.
Most other 27 nations which make up the EU want a new agreement with energy-rich Russia and have pressured Lithuania to agree to the negotiations.
The EU is dependent on Russian oil
"There are very important interests [at stake]," Spanish Secretary of State for European Affairs Diego Lopez Garrido said before the meeting, citing energy. "It will be a long negotiation that should start as soon as possible."
"We do believe that the EU should begin this process of a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement," added British Europe Minister Jim Murphy. "It is important that the EU maximizes the unity that we've seen over recent months in our relationship with Russia."