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EU Seeks To Keep Eastern Partnership On Track

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian meet in Riga on 21 May.

The European Union on May 21 reassured its six Eastern European partners that the 28-nation bloc "is as committed as ever" to building closer reations with them.

Speaking at the opening of a two-day summit in Riga, EU President Donald Tusk said, "I am absolutely sure that the Eastern Partnership is our shared priority."

Tusk said the summit was not directed against Moscow.

"The Eastern Partnership isn't a beauty contest between Russia and the EU," Tusk said, adding, "But let me be frank, beauty does count."

Tusk added, "If Russia was a bit softer, more charming, more attractive, perhaps it would not have to compensate its shortcomings by destructive, aggressive, and bullying tactics against its neighbors."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that unlike Russia, "We accept that the different Eastern Partnership nations can go their own way and we accept these different ways."

The EU's partnership program includes Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Belarus.

Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova are still seeking deeper integration and eventual membership.

Armenia and Belarus limited their relations with the EU by joining Russia's Eurasian Economic Union.

Interest in the EU partnership remains lackluster in Azerbaijan, where human rights and free speech remain endangered.

Merkel said the EU should not raise any false expectations.

"The Eastern Partnership is not an instrument for [EU] enlargement but it is an instrument to get closer to the EU," Merkel said.

The talks in Riga were expected to end May 22 with a declaration that reaffirmed the Eastern Partnership but also touched on the conflict in Ukraine.

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters