The EU countries have finally agreed on a mandate to start talks with Russia on a new strategic partnership pact, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner has confirmed. At a meeting in Moscow, he said France wants to use its six-month presidency of the European Union from July 1 to improve strained EU-Russian ties. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, still highly influential alongside new President Dmitriy Medvyedyev, will visit France next week.
EU foreign ministers are expected to rubber-stamp the mandate for the negotiations on Monday. A summit in Siberia in June is seen as a likely launch opportunity. Talks on ties with Moscow have been stalled for 18 months by internal EU wrangling, notably over objections from Poland and Lithuania. Russia’s human rights record is one stumbling block. Keeping its energy sector closed to foreign investment is another.