EU president Slovenia warned Saturday, May 10, it could skip a five-nation foreign ministers' mission to Georgia that aims to cool tensions with Russia, unless Lithuania drops its veto on separate EU-Russia talks.
Lithuania holds a trump card over the EU-Russia talks
Citing a Lithuanian foreign ministry source, the Baltic News Service (BNS) said Slovenia, which holds the rotating presidency of the 27-nation EU, had used a new bargaining tactic to try to get Vilnius, a staunch ally of Georgia, to approve the launch of negotiations on a new EU-Russia partnership pact.
"How such a trade can be offered?" asked the ministry source, who BNS said had spoken on condition of anonymity.
"It is difficult to understand whether Slovenia, which presides over the EU, is expressing the attitude of the EU towards Georgia, or whether it is just an inapt proposal by Slovenia in an attempt to force Lithuania to withdraw its justified demands in the discussions on the mandate for the EU talks with Russia on the strategic partnership," the source said.
EU Presidency refuses to comment on report
Lithuanian foreign ministry spokeswoman Violeta Gaizauskaite would not comment on Slovenia's alleged ultimatum, but said Vilnius would not change tack.
"The plans for the mission to Georgia have not changed. Lithuania's Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas is due to go to Georgia on Monday and he hopes the four other ministers will join him," Gaizauskaite told reporters.
"The Lithuanian position has not changed (on the EU-Russia talks). We will discuss all these issues Sunday in Vilnius," she added.
Last month, Vilnius unilaterally blocked attempts to kick off EU-Russia talks, demanding that a number of sensitive issues, including energy security and relations with Georgia, be included in the EU negotiating mandate.
Lithuania, which joined the EU in 2004, 13 years after breaking free from the crumbling communist bloc, is a strong supporter of fellow ex-Soviet republic Georgia.
Escalating tensions with Russia
Russian peacekeepers continue to arrive in Abkhazia
Tensions have been mounting over the Georgian separatist region of Abkhazia, where Russia -- seen as backing the separatists -- has military forces.
They reached new heights Thursday as Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili warned of a risk of war with Russia.
Foreign ministers from five EU member state -- Slovenia, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia -- are expected to travel to Tbilisi to try to mediate between Georgia and Russia.
The ministers are scheduled to assemble in Vilnius on Sunday and leave for Georgia on Monday.
The EU is hoping talks with Russia on the pact -- which is meant to keep relations between the EU and Moscow on an even keel -- can be launched at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia on June 26-27.
The mandate for EU talks with Russia is to be discussed at the next EU foreign ministers' meeting on May 26, where the pressure on Lithuania to give way is likely to be high.
All of the EU's 27 members must approve the start of negotiations with non-member states.