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The EU could issue a mandate for the start of talks
The EU could issue a mandate for the start of talks with Russia on a new partnership deal after the end of this month, Russia's envoy to the 27-nation bloc said on Tuesday.

The old Partnership and Cooperation Agreement between the EU and Russia expired in December 2007 and was extended for a further year after a mandate for talks on a new pact was blocked by Poland, and more recently by Lithuania.

"I expect this [issuing the mandate] to happen not before than the end of this month," Vladimir Chizhov said.

Lithuania vetoed talks on a new EU-Russia treaty at a foreign ministerial meeting in Luxembourg on April 29, demanding that Russia resume oil supplies through the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline, which previously pumped crude from Russia through Belarus to Lithuania's Mazeikiu nafta refinery.

Supplies were halted in July 2006 after an accident on the pipeline. Analysts said Russia stopped supplies because of Lithuania's decision to sell the Mazeikiu refinery to Polish oil company PKN Orlen, rejecting bids from Russia's LUKoil and Rosneft.

Lithuania has also demanded that Russia find a solution to 'frozen' conflicts in Moldova and Georgia and cooperate in investigations into alleged attacks by Soviet troops on Lithuanians seeking independence from the U.S.S.R. in 1991. Vilnius is also seeking compensation for the deportation of Lithuanians to labor camps during the Soviet era.

The Baltic state dropped its veto of a mandate for the start of Russia-EU talks at a foreign ministerial meeting on Sunday, after a compromise agreement was reached that Lithuania's demands and concerns would be included in the mandate.

Chizhov called Sunday's meeting in Vilnius between the foreign ministers of Lithuania, Slovenia, Poland and Sweden "another intermediary stage" of the EU's internal consultations on approving the mandate for negotiations with Russia.

Poland had until recently blocked talks on a new treaty governing trade and political cooperation with Russia over Moscow's embargo on Polish meat.

Warsaw signaled its readiness to lift its veto after the two countries resolved the meat dispute and took steps to improve relations under the new Polish government late last year. Russia resumed Polish meat imports in December 2007.

Russia, which supplies over a quarter of Europe's natural gas, is hoping for a simplified document, without binding obligations relating to its energy exports to the EU. It has repeatedly dismissed accusations that it uses energy as a political tool and insists it is a reliable supplier.

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