VILNIUS - Lithuania has agreed to lift its veto on talks for a new cooperation agreement between the EU and Russia in what has been described as a major diplomatic victory for the small country.
The move came after European diplomats agreed to include all of Lithuania's main sticking points in Russian relations on the agenda for the talks.
Lithuania had previously blocked the EU from negotiating a wide-ranging pact with Russia covering trade, justice and political ties. The talks are scheduled to take place in Siberia at the end of June.
Lithuania was the sole country in the 27-member bloc to veto the talks during an April 29 meeting with the EU's foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
"Moscow should know that it should talk to Vilnius in the same way as it does with Paris, Berlin and Warsaw," Lithuanian Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas said at the annual meeting of heads of Lithuanian diplomatic representations on May 8.
On May 11, Foreign Minister Petras Vaitiekunas, Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Herve Jouanjean, deputy secretary general of the European Commission, made a major breakthrough on the issue. According to Vaitiekunas, the EU partners agreed to include all Lithuanian demands into the EU-Russia negotiation agenda.
There were four main issues which Lithuanian officials had wanted to include in the negotiations before they would give their approval to the talks: the blocked Druzhba oil-pipeline, legal cooperation 's including the January 13th and Medininkai cases 's investigation into the disappearance of EU citizens in Russia and regulation of the frozen conflicts in Georgia and Moldova.
Poland has also previously blocked EU-Russia talks as the latter put a ban on the import of Polish meat into the country. The Polish received Lithuania's support at that time, but when Russia recalled its embargo Poland withdrew its veto. During the Luxembourg meeting, Poland has said it will not now block the talks since Russia has ended the embargo.
Political analysts have said that Lithuania's blocking of the negotiations was not as strong as the Polish veto had been.
"Lithuania was not vetoing the agreement like Poland did. Poland said that there will be no agreement until Polish meat will be allowed to the Russian market. Lithuania is just asking the EU to put these four issues on the agenda of the EU-Russia talks," said Marius Laurinavicius, an observer with the Lietuvos Rytas daily.
"It is not a discussion between Lithuania and Russia. It is a discussion between Lithuania and the rest of EU," he said.
Most of criticism regarding the position of the Foreign Ministry to block the talks was because of its tactics, not strategy. Opposition Conservative MP Audronius Azubalis, a member of both the Parliament's foreign affairs and European affairs committees, said he supports raising the four issues on the EU agenda, but that the Foreign Ministry should look for guarantees of support for its position before the Luxembourg meeting.
"Now our diplomatic efforts look a little bit like Polish cavalry attacks on Nazi tanks in the beginning of WWII," he said.
This position was echoed by Margarita Starkeviciute, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament.
"Lithuania's good intentions seem strange only because our diplomacy doesn't pursue our EU partners. We can talk alone, but let's acknowledge that when all EU countries speak together, Russia's reactions and decisions are also different.
I am not saying that it is bad for our Foreign Ministry to defend values, but this should be done with partners," Starkeviciute told the Lietuvos Zinios daily.Lithuania now hopes that it will be able to resolve some of the long-standing problems that the country has had with Russia.
On January 13, 1991, during an unsuccessful attempt to cease Lithuania's self-declared independence, Soviet armed forces stormed the Vilnius TV tower and killed 14 unarmed civilians.
On July 31, 1991, seven Lithuania border guards and policemen were killed at the Medininkai border checkpoint by a Soviet special forces unit. Now the majority of perpetrators in both cases are hiding in Russia. The Lithuanian branch of Druzhba oil pipeline 's a part of the largest pipeline in the world 's was shut down in July 2006 after Russia claimed that a leak had been discovered. Russia has still not announced any plans to renew traffic in the pipeline and refuses to give Lithuanian experts permission to examine the problem.