EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, endorsed plans for closer ties with 13 Black Sea nations that straddle a strategically important region that includes major oil and gas supply routes to Western Europe.
They instructed the European Commission, the EU's executive office, to work more closely with those nations in areas such as energy, the environment, security, justice and democratic reforms.
The drive to spread the EU's influence there, diplomats say, reflects unease over Moscow's role in a region that includes former Soviet Union republics, such as Ukraine and Georgia, seeking closer ties with the West.
The 13 Black Sea region nations are EU members Bulgaria, Greece and Romania, plus non-EU nations Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, Ukraine, Russia and Turkey.
The new focus on the Black Sea basin follows similar efforts to increase EU ties with neighbors in North Africa and the Middle East, as well as Norway, Iceland and Russia.
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are already included in the EU's so-called "Neighborhood Policy" program, which offers close economic and political ties with the 27-nation EU but no promise of future membership.
Flirtation with Turkey turned out to be disastrous for Russia, but as long as Russia is in the game, the stakes should be high