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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Backs Lithuania on EU, Not NATO Bid

President Vladimir Putin told Lithuanian leader Valdas Adamkus that he backed European Union expansion, but reiterated opposition to the extension of NATO, which the Baltic state also wants to join.

Putin, who gave a warm welcome Friday to Adamkus, also proposed Lithuania, Russia and the EU hold talks together on Kaliningrad, the enclave on the Baltic Sea that will be surrounded by EU states once Lithuania and Poland join the bloc.

Lithuanian leaders have been the only Baltic presidents invited to Moscow in recent years as Russia has shunned Estonia and Latvia over what it calls discrimination against their large Russian-speaking communities.

"Russia welcomes the expansion of Europe but considers that at the same time its economic interests and those of its new potential members should be taken into account," Putin said in televised remarks after meeting Adamkus.

"We consider, and recent events in the Balkans confirm this, that the expansion of NATO does not lead to enhanced security in the region. But we believe each country has the right to independently decide its security priorities," he said.

Lithuania wants to get into both the EU and NATO, but is heading for EU membership before joining the alliance due to Russia's strong objections.

Putin said three-way talks on Kaliningrad would be a better than bilateral discussions on the region, called Konigsberg before the Red Army seized it from Germany at the end of World War II.

Russia is worried about the continuation of visa-free travel from Kaliningrad to Lithuania and the transit of Russian military convoys.

The EU is worried about Kaliningrad's high crime, pollution and economic woes.

Despite differences over NATO, Putin said Russia and Lithuania had good relations.

"Lithuania is a traditional partner for Russia," Putin said at the start of his talks with Adamkus, whose predecessor visited Moscow in 1997.

Trade between the two countries doubled to nearly $1 billion last year, he said.

Adamkus, a Lithuanian-American who speaks good Russian, said Thursday the desire to join NATO was not aimed against Russia.