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EU Offers EUR600M In Aid To 6 Former Soviet States

The European Union on Thursday offered six former Soviet states incentives worth EUR600 million to promote stronger energy and economic ties and democratic reforms.

The plan, called the Eastern Partnership, has inflamed E.U.-Russia tensions, with Moscow worried that the bloc is encroaching on its traditional turf.

The six countries, meeting E.U. heads of state in Prague, gave the offer a mixed reception. The leaders of Belarus and Moldova, who have close ties to Moscow, didn't attend the meeting, sending deputies instead.

The leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine's President Viktor Yuschenko participated in the meeting. Ukraine's Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko canceled plans to attend after a deadly explosion at a slot-machine arcade in Dnepropetrovsk, southeast of Kiev.

The E.U. also showed signs of hesitation in dealing with the six countries. U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi skipped the summit. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, continuing her country's historical role as a mediator between east and west, was the only leader from a major E.U. country to participate.

Source: Wall Street Journal 

"The E.U. knows, not just because of the Georgia crisis and the gas crisis at the beginning of this year, that safety and prosperity in Europe also depends on the stability of the eastern partner countries," Merkel said during the meeting.

"The Eastern Partnership is a project aimed at progress and exchange. I am confident we will also convince Russia of this," she added.

This cooperation has become more important in recent years as an energy-rich Russia has reasserted itself in former Soviet states. This January, for the second time since 2006, a gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine halted imports to the E.U.

In a separate meeting in Prague on Thursday, E.U. leaders will meet officials from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Egypt to discuss the Nabucco gas pipeline project, a bid to bypass Russian supplies by directly accessing reserves in the Caspian Sea region.

"Our fortunes are indeed interlinked," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in introductory remarks at the meeting. He noted that the six countries deserve to have democracy and respect for their sovereignty, an allusion to Russia's influence in the region.

Boosting energy and economic ties to some of these former Soviet states poses a tricky problem for the E.U. Belarus is a dictatorship that along with Moldova and Azerbaijan has been accused of human-rights abuses.

The E.U.'s plan calls for these countries to commit to "fundamental values, including democracy, the rule of law and the respect for human rights." Respect for international law and market economy principles are also mentioned in the plan.

"Certainly a lot needs to be done, in some countries more than others," Barroso told a news conference after the meeting.

The E.U. didn't specify how quickly the EUR600 million in incentives will be distributed and how reforms in the six countries will be measured.

This money includes EUR250 million in funds already committed to the region. As part of the plan, international institutions, including the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Investment Bank, have been asked to increase their lending in these six states.


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