EU countries have another go at Russia sanctions amid Polish, Baltic concerns

BRUSSELS, Dec 15 (Reuters) - European Union countries will make another push to agree on a ninth package of sanctions against Moscow on Thursday after Poland and Lithuania blocked a deal over concerns it might benefit Russian oligarchs in the fertilizer business.

The two countries rejected the package saying it would offer Russian oligarchs loopholes to evade EU sanctions, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Vilnius.

Fresh sanctions on Moscow have been held up by disagreement over whether the EU should make it easier for Russian fertilizer exports to pass through European ports, even when the producers are owned by blacklisted oligarchs.

Some say EU restrictions pose a food security threat to developing countries, while others argue that relaxing them would allow Russian oligarchs who own fertilizer businesses to dodge EU sanctions against them.

As EU leaders gathered for the last summit of the year in Brussels, an EU diplomat said countries had moved closer to a deal and that a new sanctions draft was expected to be circulated on Thursday evening.

In Vilnius, Lithuanian Prime Minister Ingrida Simonyte warned against softening the sanctions.

"Agriculture is not sanctioned (by the EU), but some fertilizer oligarchs or companies are," she said.

"There are problems with some cargoes stuck due to fear of sanctions, but this should be solved with guidelines and not by putting exceptions into the regulation which, to us, seem very wide and can be very widely interpreted," she added.

Others countries argue the existing sanctions regime hampers fertilizer exports amid a global food crunch and demand clarity instead of case-by-case decisions over specific cargoes.

"The legal situation as it is actually prevents transiting fertilizer... through Rotterdam to third countries, even if it's for the World Food Program," a senior EU diplomat said.

"Let's not listen to those who try to present this as if we were practically de-listing Russian oligarchs, because that's not the case.... We're talking about the risk of famine."

Reporting by Sabine Siebold and John Chalmers in Brussels and Andrius Sytas in Vilnius Editing by Tomasz Janowski

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.