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EU mulls restart of Russia talks

European Union nations will this week study whether to restart stalled negotiations with Russia on a broad partnership pact after Moscow pulled its troops from buffer zones around two breakaway regions.

world Updated: Oct 13, 2008 10:49 IST
Mark John

European Union nations will this week study whether to restart stalled negotiations with Russia on a broad partnership pact after Moscow pulled its troops from buffer zones around two breakaway regions.

EU President France, backed by Germany, advocates an early relaunch of talks that were frozen after Russia's incursion into Georgia in August. But Britain, Sweden and a number of ex-communist states say the bloc should not rush.

EU foreign ministers are due on Monday to cautiously welcome Russian progress in meeting the terms of a ceasefire but any decision on whether to unfreeze the negotiations yet is likely to be for European leaders meeting in Brussels two days later.

"It's too early to say what the outcome will be. There is likely to be a divergence on the degree of compliance by Russia with the ceasefire," one EU envoy said.

The partnership pact between the 27-nation bloc and its largest energy supplier covers everything from trade provisions to delicate areas such as how the two handle disagreements on human rights. Russian officials say the EU needs the pact just as much as they do.

Moscow last week pulled out of the so-called buffer zones adjacent to the rebel regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, before an Oct 10 deadline in the French-brokered ceasefire.

Touring Georgia on Friday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner judged that Russia had partially complied with the terms of the ceasefire and acknowledged there might be disagreements in the EU on whether the talks could go ahead.

Some nations privately argue that no decision be taken on the pact until the run-up to a long-scheduled Nov 14 EU-Russia summit in Nice, insisting that relations are at a crossroads.

"Giving the green light is a very important moment in terms of the signal to Russia about how we feel about how things have ended up," said one diplomat.

Aside from Russia, foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Monday will discuss ties with several former Soviet republics.

Diplomats said the bloc could drop visa bans on a number of Belarussian officials after releases of political prisoners there, but it was unclear whether they would end travel restrictions on President Alexander Lukashenko himself.

Similar sanctions on gas-rich Uzbekistan that were imposed after killings of demonstrators in 2005 are also set to expire following progress on rights issues, diplomats said, and the bloc is also likely to pledge deeper ties with tiny Moldova.