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Lithuania firm against mandate for EU talks with Russia

VILNIUS, April 28 – Lithuania’s foreign minister warned Monday that his country would resist the start of the EU-Russia talks if this conflicts with Lithuania’s national interests.

EU foreign ministers meet in Luxembourg on Tuesday to discuss negotiations with Moscow on a new ‘Partnership and Cooperation Agreement’ but Lithuania wants Russia taken off the agenda.

Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas told AFP: "Our position has not been fully taken into account to date, and I am prepared to demand that the issue of the mandate for the EU-Russian talks is taken off the agenda."

"We want understanding of our interests from our partners in the EU," Vaitiekunas told AFP.

"We want cooperation with Russia, we are sure it is very important for all the EU, but we also want security, solidarity and justice," he added.

Any EU member state can block talks between the bloc and other countries. Lithuania, which is wrangling with Russia over a series of issues, has stepped up pressure in recent months.

They include energy security, Russia’s international obligations, Russia’s cooperation in legal affairs as well as the resolution of conflicts in Georgia and Moldova, where Russia has strong ties with separatist movements.

Lithuanian officials have said they want these issues included in the EU mandate for talks with Russia.

Vaitiekunas told AFP more of the specific requirements Lithuania wants included in the EU-Russia negotiation mandate in exchange for approving talks.

"We want the provisions of an energy charter to be obligatory and that the Medininkai incident is mentioned in the declaration just like name of Vladimir Litvinenko was mentioned," he said, the latter referring to the ex-Russian spy poisoned in London in November 2006.

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The Medininkai incident refers to the killing of seven Lithuanian border guards and policemen at Lithuania’s Medininkai border post by Soviet special forces on July 31, 1991, after Lithuania’s turbulent declaration of independence from the Soviet Union.

Lithuanian prosecutors allege Russian justice officials have declined to question three suspected killers. "We want real assistance, we want justice with names," Vaitekunas said.

"If our interests are not taken into account, we shall continue negotiations with the partners," he added.

A Russian official has warned that conditions imposed by Lithuania could complicate talks with the EU, already made difficult by differences over Kosovo, Georgia and US security shield plans.

Poland put the brakes on the start of the EU-Russia talks for more than a year because of a trade spat with Moscow. Warsaw dropped its objections last month, leaving Lithuania as the only stumbling block.

The EU and Russia hold summits each year and numerous working group discussions but the main bilateral accord is based on a deal reached in 1997 when Russia was still in convalescence following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

The new accord is to address Europe’s massive dependency on Russian energy and review human rights.

The EU hopes the talks can be launched at an EU-Russia summit in Siberia on June 26-27, when new president Dmitry Medvedev will represent Russia for the first time.

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