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Solana: EU may start talks on new Russia ties soon

The European Union and Russia are close to starting long-delayed talks on a new cooperation deal, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday, but Poland said it had not yet lifted its objections.

“We are about to resume negotiations about the PCA (Partnership and Cooperation Agreement),” Solana told a news conference during a meeting of the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers. Poland has vetoed the launch of talks on the wide-ranging pact with Russia, covering issues such as trade, energy and human rights, because of an import ban Moscow imposed on many Polish food products. A Polish diplomat said Warsaw had not lifted its veto completely because Russia recently scrapped its ban on most but not all Polish products. Poland also wants the EU negotiating mandate for talks with Russia to be accompanied by a declaration that the bloc will show solidarity in its energy policy in its dealings with Moscow. “Nothing has changed in this respect. We insist on energy solidarity and we are looking at how Russia is lifting its embargo,” the diplomat said. A diplomat familiar with EU ministers’ talks said the veto, which Lithuania also supports, may be lifted only after the March presidential election in Russia, possibly in April.

Lithuania, supported by Poland, wants Russia to resume supplying oil to it through a stretch of its Druzhba pipeline, though diplomats say Moscow is unlikely to relent. The Russian pipeline monopoly Transneft blamed a leak for the shutdown of the pipeline in 2006. Lithuania has said the closure was politically motivated by the sale of the refinery to Poland’s PKN Orlen, rather than to a Russian bidder. Russia banned imports of Polish meat and some other foods in November 2005, citing poor quality controls. Poland said the move was politically motivated and it blocked the launch of talks on the pact. Russia lifted the ban on meat and several other products, after Poland’s new government elected in October, softened its tone towards Moscow.

Some analysts and politicians described a visit this month to Moscow by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as the beginning of a thaw in ties, though few results were immediately visible. Poland wants the EU, which depends heavily on Russia for oil and gas supplies, to adopt a joint stance on energy policies instead of relying on bilateral deals between Moscow and EU member states. Poland and the Baltic republics staunchly oppose a Russian-German plan to build a large natural gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea, fearing it might reduce Russian gas supplies through pipelines on their territories. (Reuters)