Kaczynski Softens Russia Stance

HELSINKI -- Polish President Lech Kaczynski sought on Thursday to soften his remarks linking EU partnership talks with Russia with Georgia's and Ukraine's future membership in NATO.

Kaczynski said in an interview Wednesday that before the partnership talks start, Poland would like to see agreement within the EU on whether the two former Soviet republics would receive a clear path toward NATO membership.

Asked at a news conference Thursday during a visit to Helsinki if Poland was setting such a condition to lift its veto of the EU-Russia talks, Kaczynski said: "There was not such a formulation [in the interview]. I said that we should consider this. ... I said that we should not rush with the [EU-Russia] talks."

An official at the president's office said Kaczynski's remarks were misinterpreted by some media.

In the Wednesday interview, Kaczynski said the issue of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia, opposed by Russia, was linked with a wider debate about the EU's strategic partnership with Moscow.

"I must tie these two issues together even though I would prefer not to," he said.

Asked if Poland, which blocked EU-Russia talks in 2006 due to a now-resolved trade dispute, would lift the veto to reassure Moscow, Kaczynski said: "We certainly should talk, we certainly should build an atmosphere in which mistrust is reduced. But whether the strategic [EU-Russia] talks can be unblocked in the near future is another matter. I would first like to know how the issue of [Membership Action Plans] for Ukraine and Georgia is going to be resolved."

His remarks prompted a swift response from Russia, which warned Poland that attempts to link EU partnership talks with NATO membership for former Soviet states risked making the EU a hostage to the military alliance.