Slovenia Hopes to Mend Ties Between EU, Russia

Slovenia on Tuesday offered an optimistic outlook on the troubled relations between the European Union and Russia.

Ambassador Andrej Benedejcic told reporters that he hoped a new cooperation agreement with Moscow could be signed while his country holds the EU's rotating presidency for the first half of this year.

"There have been positive signals. ... We wish to achieve this within our presidency," Benedejcic said of a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, negotiations for which have been postponed numerous times in the past.

He cautioned that Slovenia was "not obsessed with solving everything" while it held the presidency but said the country would use its "excellent relations" with Moscow to mend ties.

"We have no skeletons in the closet with regard to Russia," he said.

He added that he did not expect Russia's presidential election in March to lead to major changes with the EU.

Relations have been frayed by issues such as Moscow's withdrawal from the Cold War-era Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe and its current insistence that the British government-funded British Council scale back its operations.

Benedejcic denied that looming international recognition of an independent Kosovo would further worsen relations. "Moscow said many times that it sees the future of the region within the European Union," he said.

The ambassador dismissed the notion that independence for the Serbian province would serve as a pretext for breakaway republics on former Soviet territory like Abkhazia and South Ossetia. "To say that the Balkans resemble the South Caucasus is exaggerated," he said.

Slovenia, which achieved independence from Yugoslavia after a 10-day war in 1991, joined the EU in 2004 and is the first former communist bloc country to hold the presidency of the 27-member union.