EU ‘disappointed’ after Ukraine scraps plan to sign historic deal

Agence France-Presse

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The suspension of the high-profile talks, announced in a government decree, came after Moscow piled pressure on Kiev to step back from closer integration with the EU bloc

EU DISAPPOINTMENT. Here, the European Flag is seen in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 13 March 2013. EPA/Patrick Seeger

KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine on Thursday, November 21, halted preparations to sign a landmark trade and political agreement with the European Union this month, in a dramatic development Brussels said came as “a disappointment”.

The suspension of the high-profile talks, announced in a government decree, came after Moscow piled pressure on Kiev to step back from closer integration with the EU bloc.

Kiev’s turnaround was announced after lawmakers again failed to agree legislation that would allow jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko to go abroad for medical treatment – a key condition set by EU leaders for the signing of the Association Agreement.

Inking the deal with the EU at a Vilnius summit next week would have marked Kiev’s break from historic master Moscow, which had repeatedly warned of trade retaliation if it was signed.

The decree issued by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s government on Thursday ordered the “halt of the process of preparing the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union”.

The document said the decision was made to “ensure the national security of Ukraine” after taking into account the effects on trade with Russia.

It spoke of the need to “restore lost trade volumes with the Russian Federation”.

The Association Agreement is seen as a first step to eventual EU membership.

“This is a disappointment not just for the EU but, we believe, for the people of Ukraine,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in a statement.

Describing the proposed deal as “the most ambitious” ever offered to a partner by the EU, Ashton said it would have enhanced reforms in Ukraine and helped ease its economic troubles.

Moscow was quick to praise Kiev’s turnaround, with President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Russia “welcomed a desire to improve and develop” cooperation with Ukraine.

EU leaders have repeatedly warned that Ukraine may not have another chance of signing the agreement for several years, with the European Commission due to change in late 2014 and Ukraine set for presidential elections in 2015.

EU envoys Aleksander Kwasniewski and Pat Cox, who have been to Ukraine 26 times in efforts to secure the deal, in a statement voiced “deep disappointment at the unilateral decision” by Kiev, noting “the dramatically increased pressure from Russia in recent weeks”.

‘Ukraine bows to Kremlin’

Kiev’s sudden freezing of the deal was criticized by Ukraine’s opposition, which called for the country’s president to be impeached, while several European foreign ministers expressed regret at the move.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague called Ukraine’s decision a “missed opportunity” but said London remained committed to the country’s future ties with Europe.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was more blunt, writing on Twitter: “Ukraine government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin. Politics of brutal pressure evidently works.”

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was Ukraine’s “sovereign right to make a decision which path she wants to follow”.

The United States also expressed disappointment.

“We believe there was ample time to resolve all remaining obstacles to signing the association agreement in Vilnius with sufficient effort and commitment,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was on a visit to Austria, said his country would “work further on this path, this path to EU integration”.

But Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Yanukovych should step down for failing to clinch the deal.

“If Yanukovych is refusing to sign the agreement, then it is not only state treason but also grounds for the impeachment of the president and the dismissal of the government,” Yatsenyuk said in parliament.

The opposition has accused Yanukovych of having no interest in seeing Tymoshenko released ahead of 2015 polls.

The Ukrainian parliament has now rejected all six bills that had been put forward on the treatment of convicts abroad after they failed to gain the support of Yanukovych’s ruling party.

Opposition leaders have called for a mass rally in Kiev on Sunday to support Ukraine’s European choice.

Tymoshenko was one of the co-leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution that forced the annulment of presidential elections claimed by Yanukovych.

However Yanukovych bounced back to win presidential polls in 2010 and just one-and-a-half years later Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years on charges of abuse of power while in office.

Tymoshenko, who suffers from back problems, is receiving treatment in a hospital in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. –

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