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EU could approve start of cooperation talks with Russia on Monday

The EU could issue a mandate for negotiations with Russia on a new partnership deal at a meeting of foreign ministers on May 26, Russia’s envoy to the 27-nation bloc said on Friday.

“It is clear that the mandate will be approved, although intrigue surrounding this issue continues right up to the end,” Vladimir Chizhov said. “We are waiting for an official notification from our EU partners that the mandate has been approved and they are ready to start talks.” EU ambassadors to Russia agreed on a mandate for talks on a new Partnership and Cooperation agreement covering all areas of Russia-EU ties earlier this week. The negotiations are expected to be launched at a Russia-EU summit in Khanty-Mansiisk, Western Siberia, on June 26-27. The old agreement expired in December 2007 and was extended for a further year, after a mandate for talks on a new pact was blocked by Poland and Lithuania.

Poland had vetoed the start of talks until late last year over Russia’s imposed embargo on imports of Polish meat. Warsaw signaled its readiness to lift its veto after the two countries resolved the dispute and took steps to improve relations under the new Polish government. Russia resumed Polish meat imports in December 2007. Lithuania dropped its objections to the start of Russia-EU talks at a foreign ministerial meeting on May 12.

The veto had been imposed in protest against Russia’s closure of the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline, Lithuania’s demands that Russia pay compensation for Soviet-era deportations, and demands for a solution to “frozen conflicts” in Moldova and Georgia. Lithuania lifted its veto when the rest of the EU agreed to include the issues in the talks with Russia. Russia stopped supplying crude via the pipeline to Lithuania’s only oil refinery, Mazeikiu refinery, in 2006 citing the need for urgent repairs.

Analysts said Russia stopped supplies because of Lithuania’s decision to sell the Mazeikiu refinery to Polish oil company PKN Orlen, rejecting bids from Russia’s LUKoil and Rosneft. It is expected that the pipeline will be put back into operation in the spring of 2009. Russia, which supplies over a quarter of Europe’s natural gas, is hoping for a simplified partnership agreement, without binding obligations relating to its energy exports to the EU. It has repeatedly dismissed accusations that it uses energy as a political tool and insists it is a reliable supplier. (