The European Union has launched a plan for closer ties with six former Soviet republics. The Czech EU Presidency laid on a warm welcome in Prague.The Eastern Partnership promotes democratic reform, economic integration and energy security. Prague said Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine “are responding”. To soothe Russian misgivings, one Czech official called it “an offer, not a projection of EU force”. The EU is keen to avert instability in a region that carries all its gas imports from Russia. Association agreements, visa liberalisation and free trade could follow with the six. The EU will follow up the meeting with an overlapping energy summit this Friday. Its aim is to open a “southern corridor” for alternative energy supplies, mainly through the long-planned Nabucco pipeline, to deliver natural gas from the Caspian Sea region to Europe.