After 18 months of opposition, the 27 European Union member states finally agreed to launch strategic partnership talks with Russia, a move that green lights negotiations for a new cooperation accord between the nations.
The EU approved conditions for partnership talks with Russia Wednesday.
The deal, which had been delayed because of objections from former Soviet satellite states, comes ahead of an EU-Russia summit to be held June 26-27 in Siberia. The EU agreement, which came Wednesday, May 21, gives the go-ahead for talks that address the bloc's relationship to Russia as well as discussions on energy and political issues.
Talks were delayed beginning in November 2006, when Poland vetoed the mandate's adoption after Moscow banned imports of fresh meat and other food products from Warsaw. The objections were lifted when Russia removed their embargo earlier this year.
Lithuania objected to "frozen conflicts"
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner announced the news
Most recently, Lithuania opposed the negotiations as a result of concerns about the "frozen conflicts" on Russia's borders -- a reference to Moscow's role in the tensions among breakaway areas of former Soviet republics, notably in Georgia and Moldova.
Lithuania's complaints were addressed with the addition of an annex stating the EU's intention to watch the situation there closely and provide help as needed.
"That was the final obstacle," a Lithuanian diplomat said. "Now all of our concerns have been put into the annexes, we are happy."
No "new conditionality" for future negotiations
Lithuania is concerned about the "frozen conflict" in Georgia
A second EU diplomat said the revisions made to the mandate to address Lithuanian concerns did not add any "new conditionality" to future negotiations with Moscow.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, whose country will take over the EU's rotating presidency before the EU-Russia summit, announced the agreement at a news conference Wednesday.
"I think that the obstacles, in particular Lithuanian ones, have been lifted and that in the days to come, in May and June, we will be able to propose to Russia the calendar for the partnership accord," he said.