Poland on Monday blocked EU attempts to hold talks with Russia over a new cooperation pact, demanding first a clear sign from Moscow that its demands on trade and energy will be met.
Russia has been accused of using its gas supplies as political leverage
Warsaw is taking a tough line, insisting that the EU pressure Moscow to ratify an international energy charter and lift its embargoes on Polish meat and plant products, before negotiations on a broader agreement can start.
"We are unwilling to back off... without a clear political signal from Russia," Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga told reporters after a meeting with her EU counterparts in Brussels.
Fotyga did not indicate what Poland would consider to be a clear political signal. However she said she was "cautiously optimistic" of the chances of breaking the impasse.
"Russia uses energy as a political tool, it uses trade restrictions as a political tool, so there should be no surprise we are using the tools we have at our disposal," she added.
The 24 other EU member states are hoping to formulate an initial position on a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Moscow ahead of a European Union-Russia summit on November 24 in Helsinki.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja told a press conference after the talks that they have not ruled out an agreement before the EU-Russia summit.
"I would expect that we can finalize the mandate and have it adopted by the Council (EU summit in mid-December)," he said.
Embargo to stay until Poland fixes food
Russia has insisted Poland improve meat standards
Russia will not lift its embargo on certain Polish foodstuffs until veterinary services put an end to continued "violations" a Russian food security official said in Moscow.
"We cannot guarantee the safety of these deliveries because we regularly detect violations in the import of various meat and other foodstuffs," from Poland, the spokesman was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency.
France and Germany, among others, argued at an EU summit in Finland last month that the tactics be changed, and that the bloc attempt to include as many of the energy charter's main points as possible in the new partnership accord, even if Russia has only signed and not ratified the document.
These could include reliable access to Russian energy supplies and pipelines, security of investments and transparency within the massive Russian energy market.
"I hope that between now and the EU-Russia summit we can reach a common position," said EU External Affairs Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, while acknowledging the continued Polish stance.
The current EU-Russia partnership accord runs out late next year but EU officials are playing down any talk of a deadline as the two sides agree that the existing deal will remain in place until a new agreement is reached.
EU leaders had a chance for wide-ranging talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin last month at an informal dinner in Lahti, Finland, when they appeared split over their attitude to Moscow.
Although Putin gave the leaders assurances that Russia would continue to steadily and reliably pump oil and gas westward to EU consumers, he did not hesitate to take a swipe at Georgia.
Even though EU-Russia relations increasingly revolve around Russia's massive energy supplies, the Europeans insist they will not shy away in talks with Moscow from more prickly issues such as Moscow's hard-nosed approach to Georgia.
Russia has cut off transport ties, deported hundreds of Georgian citizens, and cracked down on Georgian businesses in the worst dispute between the two since a 2003 revolution brought a pro-Western leadership to power in Georgia.
Russian ambassador 'not surprised'
Putin with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso
Russia's ambassador to the European Union said on Monday that the European Union should not be surprised that Poland has become a stumbling block to a new EU-Russia accord.
"There is truly a need for consensus here, and it has been blocked by Poland. But I can't say that it came as a surprise," Vladimir Chizhov said in comments on the Rossiya television station.
"We warned our partners in the EU about the difficulties the EU expansion of two years ago might bring," he said. "We wish success to our partners in this problem."