March 13 2008
MOSCOW, March 13 (Reuters) – Estonia will not block the start of stalled European Union-Russia partnership talks despite its rocky relations with Moscow, Estonia’s foreign minister told Reuters in an interview.
Ex-Soviet Estonia accuses Moscow of involvement in a cyber attack on its Web sites last year, after the Baltic state decided to move a Soviet World War Two memorial to a less prominent site in its capital. Russia denies any online attacks.
Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet, on a visit to Moscow, told Reuters late on Wednesday the dispute would not stand in the way of launching talks on a long-term strategic partnership treaty between Russia and the European Union.
Asked if Estonia would use its veto to block the start of talks, Paet said: “No.”
“We have always been in the position that it is important that the EU and Russia have direct contacts so that we also would like to see that talks start as soon as possible.”
The EU-Russia treaty is intended to establish a framework for relations on issues including energy, trade and human rights. Poland blocked the start of talks in response to a Russian ban on imports of some Polish agricultural products.
Officials in Warsaw and Moscow say they are hopeful the veto can be lifted soon. But diplomats say Russia’s poor relations with its former satellites in the Baltic, now EU members, could further hold up treaty negotiations.
Moscow reacted angrily to Estonia’s decision to move the World War Two statue, saying it showed disrespect for Soviet wartime sacrifices. But officials denied any involvement in the online attacks, which forced Internet sites to crash or freeze.
Russia and Lithuania, another Baltic state, clashed after Moscow shut a stretch of pipeline delivering oil to Lithuania, citing the need for repairs. Lithuania said the closure was politically motivated.
Estonia’s foreign minister had talks on Wednesday with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov. Paet said the meeting was positive.
“We discussed the next steps we can take to bring our relations back to where they were,” he told Reuters.
But he said Estonia was opposed to a Russian-backed plan for a gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that would route the gas through Estonia’s maritime economic zone.
“We see there could be environmental risks,” said Paet. “But unfortunately so far there has been no proper research or inquiry about this.”
The Nordstream consortium building the pipeline includes Russia’s Gazprom, German firms BASF and E.ON and Dutch Gasunie. (Editing by Elizabeth Piper)