Finland`s Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen Thursday welcomed a plan by Poland and Sweden to boost European Union ties with six ex-Soviet nations such as Ukraine which could one day join the bloc, according to EU Business.

"In the past we`ve had proposals for cooperation with the countries of the Mediterranean, with those of the southern Balkans, and northern Europe," Vanhanen told reporters during a visit to Poland.

"Now we have a proposal for cooperation with six more countries. That is complementary without competing against" other moves to build links between the EU and its neighbours, Vanhanen said at a joint press conference with his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk.

Warsaw has dismissed suggestions that its drive with Sweden to strengthen the EU`s links with the six countries, several of whom border Poland, is meant as a counterweight to efforts spearheaded by France to boost ties with the bloc`s Mediterranean neighbours.

"The Finnish prime minister took a very positive view of the quality and content of our proposal for a partnership with the countries to the east," Tusk said.

The Polish-Swedish plan would see an easing of visa policy with six former Soviet republics -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine -- and the creation of a free trade area, based on trade agreements between each nation and EU countries.

Russia -- which has seen nine countries from its Soviet-era stamping ground, including Poland, join the EU since 2004 -- is wary of efforts to boost links between the 27-nation EU and former communist states which still lie outside it.

But both Tusk and Vanhanen said there was no need to hold talks with Moscow about the plan.

"It doesn`t seem justified to me to have specific consultations with Russia over this project," Vanhanen said.

Tusk added: "The goal of this initiative is to help improve living standards in these countries. It isn`t directed against any country, including Russia."

EU Business