By Robert Wielaard, AP
ministers on Monday considered increasing economic and other aid to Ukraine and four other ex-Soviet republics to
try to counter Moscow's
war against Georgia
last August and the cutoff of Russian gas to the European Union in January
"we see a clear imperative for stepping up our game in the
neighborhood," said EU External Relations Commissioner Benita
The EU's bid for closer ties with Armenia, Azerbaijan,
Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine
is welcomed by these neighbors but not by Belarus'
authoritarian president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has close ties with Moscow and runs a
The EU hopes it can launch an "eastern
partnership" on May 7 with the leaders of all six countries.
"There is still much to do" to get Belarus on
board, said Dutch Deputy Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans.
Others said the EU may have to do without Belarus, especially if it recognizes the
breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia
and Abkhazia as independent states.
"We must not be overly optimistic,"
said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
The European Commission has drafted a plan
offering free trade, economic assistance, regular security and defense
consultations and far-reaching economic integration with the EU for each of the
In exchange for EU money, expertise, goodwill,
visas and economic outreach, the countries must step up progress toward democracy,
the rule of law, sound economics and human rights.
The EU executive has budgeted euro1.4 billion
($1.8 billion) for the plan between now and 2013. It added euro600 million
($769 million) after the Russian-Georgian war in August and Russia's cutoff
of natural gas in January.
The proposed partnership does not promise EU
membership — something Ukraine,
in particular, wants. The plan is expected to be formally approved at a
mid-March meeting of the 27 EU leaders.
It came about after French President Nicolas
Sarkozy in 2008 pushed for a Mediterranean Union linking the EU to Israel and its
Arab neighbors. That was watered down because of objections in Germany and
because other countries said it was more crucial to reach out to eastern
The eastern partnership plan says the EU must
seek a "diversification of energy routes" by enabling the ex-Soviet
nations to build new and better-connected pipelines and oil- and gas-storage
The EU wants to see a gas pipeline from the
Caucasus fully skirting Russia.
Russia is pushing for deals
under which Turkmenistan and
Kazakhstan will ship their
Caspian Sea gas through Russia.
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