EU to launch 'Eastern Partnership' at May summit
To boost ties with six ex-Soviet republics
European leaders will launch their "Eastern Partnership" to boost ties with six ex-Soviet republics at a Prague summit in May, a Czech EU presidency source said Thursday, AFP reported.
The six countries invited to participate in the scheme are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.
The Eastern Partnership is aimed at increasing financial support from and cooperation with the European Union in those countries, where Russia still casts a long shadow.
It remains unclear whether Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko would attend the summit, which the source said would take place in the Czech capital on May 7.
Last October EU foreign ministers suspended a travel ban on Lukashenko and several associates in a move designed to encourage democracy in the wake of disputed elections there.
A Czech diplomat said the EU leaders participating in Prague may hold another summit the same day or the following day with countries involved in the "southern corridor" -- a planned energy supply route from the Caspian region, through Turkey and into Europe.
Among the countries which could be invited to that event are Georgia, Kazakhstan and Turkey, he added.
The southern corridor, notably the Nabucco gas pipeline from the Caspian to Austria via Turkey, has become a priority issue following a recent gas payments row between Russia and major transit country Ukraine earlier this month.
The gas row was one of the first issues the Czechs had to tackle after taking the six-month EU presidency on January 1.
Ukraine is the transit nation for 80 percent of Russian gas exports to Europe.
The New Year standoff between Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz and Russian energy giant Gazprom resulted in several European countries being deprived of gas supplies for two weeks amid freezing winter temperatures.
It reinforced Europe`s wish to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and seek alternative sources and transit partners.