The European Union is seeking to bolster economic, trade and security ties with six former Soviet states through a key partnership agreement it is offering up at a summit in Prague. The effort is being viewed as a way to weaken Moscow's influence in that region.
The European Union is offering up what it calls an Eastern Partnership Agreement to six former Soviet republics -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova.
In a nutshell, the deal offers these countries free trade, economic aid, security cooperation and better market access with the 27-member bloc, among other perks. In return, the EU is demanding these countries commit themselves to democracy, the rule of law and sound economic and human rights policies.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, summed up the stakes for both sides.
"We are living a very difficult moment on the economy, therefore it is very timely that we do something on the economy today, in this period of time...on trade, on visa facilitation..and an issue that will be very, very important for them and us is energy," Barroso said. "So it will be a very wide panoply of issues -- some come from the past, some are new and some that will appear in the future."
But several key European leaders -- including those from France, Britain and Spain were not attending the summit, sending lower-level representatives instead. Nor were high representatives present from Moldova and Ukraine, two countries which are riven by political and economic problems.
Moscow is also skeptical about the partnership deal with countries it traditionally considers within its sphere of influence. Indeed, the summit may increase tensions between Russia and the West which are currently at odds over NATO military exercises in Georgia.