EU, Georgia launch talks on energy ties
* Ukraine had also held energy talks with EU
* EU seeking to complete own energy market, build links
BRUSSELS Feb 20 (Reuters) - The European Commission launched negotiations on Thursday to strengthen energy links with Georgia as part of efforts to bind the former Soviet state closer to the European Union and weaken its bonds with Russia.
Despite the dramatic refusal of Ukraine, another former Soviet state, to enter into an association agreement with the European Union, Georgia has said it is determined to sign an EU accord on trade and broader cooperation.
It is also increasing its ties with the 28-country bloc's energy market by joining the EU energy community.
"Joining the energy community will attract investments into Georgia and bring Georgian citizens and businesses closer to the other members of the energy community and the European Union," EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said following the start of talks in Tbilisi.
A second set of talks will be held in Brussels on March 19.
Apart from seeking to complete its own internal energy market, the Commission - the EU executive - is working on closer energy integration with EU neighbours.
The energy community so far includes the EU and eight nations from southeast Europe and the Black Sea region. The aim is to create a more joined-up energy market across the region with greater cross-border trade.
Members include Ukraine, which in late November stunned the European Union by spurning the EU trade deal and instead winning a $15 billion bailout deal from Russia.
As part of Ukraine's membership of the energy community, the Commission had been seeking to convert Ukraine from a gas transit nation almost totally dependent on Russian gas into an energy hub producing its own fuel, developing storage and importing gas from the European Union as well as from Russia.