Lithuania Signals Firm Stance on EU-Russia Talks

VILNIUS, Lithuania -- Lithuania signaled Friday that it would a take a firm stance on talks between the European Union and Russia on forging a new partnership, saying any agreement must be as comprehensive as possible.

Lithuania, whose ties with Moscow are colored by centuries of Russian domination, lifted its veto on the talks last month only when its concerns over oil supplies, frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova and cooperation on crime were considered.

But Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas expressed reservations Friday about a suggestion by Moscow that some issues could be resolved in individual agreements.

"The mandate for talks is concrete and the partnership agreement with Russia has to be concrete as well," he said in an interview. "I do not think it would be rational to split the negotiation process into separate pieces."

Negotiations on the new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, which covers energy, trade and political ties, are expected to start later this month.

France, which takes over the EU's presidency on July 1, wants a deal with Russia by the end of this year.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said this is possible -- if the deal is a broad framework and specific issues are regulated by separate agreements.

Vaitiekunas said an agreement would be possible by the end of this year if it was of "good enough quality."

"We are interested in the quality of relations with Russia, not in the timeframe [of reaching the agreement]," he said.

Most observers say it will take at least 18 months to reach a deal. A senior Lithuanian diplomat said the talks could last up to five or six years.

One of the main issues Lithuania had wanted taken into account was the closure in 2006 of a pipeline carrying oil from Russia to Lithuania.

Lithuania said Russia shut the pipeline for political reasons but Moscow said it was broken. Vaitiekunas said Lithuania had sent six letters to Russia about the pipeline, but had received no replies.

"We even proposed sending our technicians to repair the pipeline or to buy it, but no answer. ... Does this silence mean Russia is punishing us, are they angry at us?" he said.

Asked whether the pipeline would force Lithuania to block a deal, Vaitiekunas said it depended on progress in other issues.

Russia also had to put more efforts into solving frozen conflicts in Moldova and Georgia, Vaitiekunas said.

He said the EU should have a more active role in the settlement of the conflict between Georgia and its breakaway region of Abkhazia, which is supported by Moscow, and should send a police mission or peacekeepers.