Poland wants 'friends' group for EU Eastern Partnership

Poland has invited Russia to be part of a "group of friends" of the European Union's Eastern Partnership with former Soviet republics, Poland's foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Monday.

"Poland has proposed to create a group of friends for the Eastern Partnership, bringing together countries like Russia that want to participate in programmes related to the Partnership and be informed about them," Sikorski told reporters after an EU ministerial meeting on the Eastern Partnership in the Polish Baltic Sea port of Sopot Monday.

The group of friends would also include "such countries as Norway, Canada, the United States and Japan as well as others," he said.

Launched by the 27-member European Union in Prague in May 2009, the Eastern Partnership involves six ex-Soviet states including Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

It is aimed at facilitating multi-lateral meetings, the progressive liberalisation of EU visa regimes and the creation of a free-trade zone as well as using EU funds for various projects in the region.

The partnership is "everything except a 'cordon sanitaire' against Russia," France's European Affairs minister Pierre Lellouche told AFP after the meeting.

"For us Russia is a friend and partner of Europe and of France and we absolutely believe that Ukraine should and must have good relations with all of its neighbours be they in the east or west," he said.

"Naturally we are keen to see democratic life in Ukraine (...) continue," and for there to be "transparency" in the natural gas sector "as the European economy is linked to the stability of the transit of natural gas (from Russia) via Ukraine," he added.