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Russia says EU “needs to mature” on Moscow ties

The European Union needs to grow up and stop letting negotiations on closer ties with Russia be taken hostage by new member states that were once Soviet satellites, Moscow’s envoy to Brussels said on Tuesday.

Ambassador Vladimir Chizhov said that after 18 months of waiting for the 27-nation EU to agree a negotiating mandate, Russia was in no hurry for new strategic partnership talks. “If the European Union needs time to mature, as it obviously does, then so be it,” Chizhov told a news conference. “We would certainly wish to avoid seeing this negotiating process being taken hostage by certain interests of individual member states wishing to pursue their own agenda that has little or nothing to do with EU-Russia relations,” he said.

Poland and Lithuania vetoed the start of talks in 2006 because of a Russian ban on imports of meat and other food products from Poland, and the suspension of Russian oil supplies to a Lithuanian refinery sold to a Polish company. Warsaw has indicated it is ready to drop its objection after Moscow lifted the meat embargo earlier this year. EU diplomats say they hope Vilnius will remove its veto later this month after member states appended a statement to the negotiating mandate setting out concerns about energy security.

Barring a last-minute hitch, EU foreign ministers should adopt the mandate on April 28 and the talks could be launched at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia on June 26-27 -- the first with President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, the diplomats said. Chizhov said he was not privy to internal EU wrangling but was aware of “intentions on the part of one or several countries to load the mandate with certain additions or annexes”. If the EU negotiators “have their hands tied behind their backs by certain national annexes” it would not be conducive to a successful outcome to the talks, he said. The EU wants the new agreement to cover the full range of relations between Russia and the bloc, including trade, energy, migration, human rights and political cooperation. Chizhov said the treaty should set out general principles of the relationship but might leave detailed binding arrangements on specific sectors to later sectoral agreements.

Russia is the EU’s biggest energy supplier, providing a quarter of its gas needs. Brussels is keen to use the talks to try to force open Moscow’s gas pipeline network to third party traffic, breaking the monopoly of state-owned Gazprom. (Reuters)