European leaders are due to continue talks with former Soviet nations in Latvia on Friday hoping to forge closer ties.
But Moscow claims the so-called Eastern Partnership with Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova is an attempt to encircle Russia.
With the Ukraine crisis threatening to escalate once again, Brussels says that the grouping is more important than ever.
“Let me reply to those who claim that the Eastern Partnership is directed against Russia. It is not. The Eastern Partnership is not a beauty contest between Russia and the EU. But let me be frank, beauty does count,” said European Council President Donald Tusk.Read Tusk’s remarks ahead of the Summit
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova are said to be keen to join the EU but Tusk said they shouldn’t expect a rapid entrance into the bloc.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs saw the two-day summit as an opportunity to get input from regional countries over the current geopolitical standoff.
“Let me underline that EU member states as well as our partner member states will be free to raise issues. And I think that of course the situation in Ukraine and the implementation of the Minsk agreement is going to be one of the subjects,” said Rinkēvičs.EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström describes the “lively discussion” happening at the summit.
Leaders hope to sign a joint declaration calling for the Ukraine crisis to be resolved, but insiders say it will likely be a compromise.
Nathalia Richardson, Euronews’ correspondent in Riga told us:
“The final declaration will include the Ukraine conflict and an appeal to all sides to fulfill the Minsk agreements, according to sources. But two countries – Armenia and Belarus – are against the wording of the text that condemns Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”Politico predicts the Eastern Partnership summit will be a “real bummer”.