EU 'strongly' disapproves Russian pressure on Ukraine, deal still open
BRUSSELS - Agence France-Presse
An opposition supporter draped in an EU flag, attends a protest in front of the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, Nov. 25, 2013. AP PhotoThe EU Monday sharply criticised Russian pressure on Ukraine to drop a landmark cooperation accord with the bloc, due to have been signed this week, and said the deal was still "on the table." "It is up to Ukraine to freely decide what kind of engagement (it seeks) with the EU," European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso said.
"We strongly disapprove of the Russian position and actions in this respect," a joint statement said, adding that closer ties with former Soviet states in Eastern Europe "do not come at the expense" of EU relations with other countries there.
Last week, Kiev unexpectedly announced it was halting all preparations to sign the Association Agreement, seen as a first step toward EU membership that would have marked a historic break by Ukraine from Moscow.
The decision came after the Ukraine parliament failed to adopt legislation that would have freed jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a key EU political condition for Ukraine to sign the agreement.
The government cited "national security" but the suspicion was that it had caved into pressure from Moscow.
In turn Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has repeatedly threatened Ukraine with retaliation it signed the deal, accused the EU of "blackmailing" Kiev.
Speaking as supporters of the EU pact protested in Kiev against President Viktor Yanukovych, Van Rompuy and Barroso said the EU "position remains clear. The offer of signing an unprecedented Association Agreement and (trade accord) is still on the table." Much progress had already been made and the EU's "most ambitious ever" accord offered Ukraine the "best possible support" for its modernisation.
"While being aware of the external pressure that Ukraine is experiencing, we believe that short term considerations should not override the long term benefits," they said.
"Ukrainian citizens have again shown these last days that they fully understand and embrace the historic nature of the European association," they added, in apparent reference to the pro-EU protests.
The accord would be "win-win" for all concerned and the EU was ready to clarify for Russia "the mutual beneficial impact of increased trade and exchanges with our neighbours."