EUROPEAN UNION

EU leaders blaming Russia for Ukraine not signing accord

Kiev's decision to scrap trade and political pact seen as Cold War-style battle of East and West

PUBLISHED : Friday, 29 November, 2013, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 November, 2013, 3:35am
AFP

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European Union leaders hit out at Russia at a summit yesterday after Ukraine refused to sign a landmark accord, dealing a blow to EU plans to draw ex-Soviet states into the Western fold.

The snub by jewel-in-the-crown Ukraine highlighted a worsening EU-Russia tug-of-war over former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe.

"The times of limited sovereignty are over in Europe," European Commission President Jose Manel Barroso said after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych turned a deaf ear to pleas from the bloc's 28 leaders to strike the far-reaching trade and political deal, claiming economic pressure from Moscow.

"We cannot accept ... to have a kind of a possible veto of a third country," Barroso added.

The two-day summit held in the Lithuanian capital on the EU's eastern flank was supposed to have celebrated a five-year drive to cement ties between the bloc and Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

But days before the summit Yanukovych pulled out of the signature of the accord that was to have been the event's crowning moment.

The EU "door will always remain open for Ukrainians should they wish it," said French President Francois Hollande. Georgia and Moldova meanwhile initialled political and trade agreements that will still need to be officially signed to come into effect, hopefully at some point within the next year.

"We hope that sooner or later Ukraine will be ready," said EU Council president Herman Van Rompuy said. "We will not give in to external pressure, not the least from Russia."

Van Rompuy meanwhile hailed the "determination, courage and political will" of Georgia and Moldova amid worries they too like Ukraine will come under Russian pressure to eventually pull back from the EU deals.

"Russia has already begun to increase pressure on these states as well," said global think-tank Stratfor.

Yanukovych meanwhile requested extra EU funds to help the nation's struggling economy and demanded three-way talks between the EU, Russia and Ukraine on trade - an idea blunt ly rejected by Brussels.

As one EU official put it this week "it would be like inviting China to the table at talks to agree an EU-US free trade deal".

Yanukovych said he hoped to sign the historic pact "in the near future", which could mean as soon as February or March at an EU-Ukraine summit.

"For us, the European choice remains a strategic direction of Ukraine's further... development," he said.

Kiev's surprise decision to scrap the landmark accord with the EU has unleashed a war of words between East and West recalling Cold War days and sparked some of the biggest protests seen in Ukraine in a decade.

Pro-EU Ukrainians took to the streets as thousands of demonstrators locked hands yesterday in what was a symbolic chain linking their ex-Soviet country to the European Union after Yanukovych failed to salvage the deal with the bloc.