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West disappointed after Ukraine scraps EU deal

22 november 2013, 16:49
0
©Reuters/Gleb Garanich
©Reuters/Gleb Garanich
Ukraine on Friday faced accusations from the West it had missed a historic opportunity and caved into Kremlin pressure after the government scrapped plans to sign a deal to deepen trade and political ties with the European Union, AFP reports.

Hundreds of pro-EU Ukrainians turned out late at night on Independence Square in central Kiev to protest the decision, with opposition leaders calling for a mass rally on Sunday which they hope will muster 100,000 people.

The government unexpectedly announced Thursday that it was halting all preparations to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union at a summit in Vilnius next week, a deal which would have marked a historic break from the Kremlin.

The announcement came after lawmakers failed to agree a bill that would have allowed jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko, the arch political foe of President Viktor Yanukovych, leave for treatment in Germany, a key condition set by EU leaders for the agreement.

"This is a missed opportunity," British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement, while EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said it was a "disappointment" for both the EU and the people of Ukraine.

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


Bowing to the Kremlin?


The Ukrainian government said that its decision was forced by national security concerns, prompted by problems in trade with Russia.

The Kremlin, which wants Ukraine to join a Russia-led Customs Union, had threatened trade retaliation if Ukraine signed the deal. Yanukovych had made a trip to Moscow earlier this month for secret talks with President Vladimir Putin the substance of which has yet to be revealed.

The Association Agreement is seen as a first step to eventual EU membership and also came with a major free trade deal that would have made Ukraine's membership of the Customs Union impossible.

EU envoys Aleksander Kwasniewski and Pat Cox, who visited Ukraine more than two dozen times to secure the deal, expressed "deep disappointment" at the "unilateral" decision of the Ukrainian government.

"We take note... of the dramatically increased pressure from Russia in recent weeks," they said in a joint statement.

They warned that the "time-out formula" adopted by the Ukrainian government "is likely to last for a considerable time".

EU officials have repeatedly warned that failing to sign the agreement in Vilnius will close a window that may not open again for several years, with the EU Commission set to be renewed in 2014 and Ukraine facing presidential elections in 2015.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who has been closely involved in moves to integrate Ukraine closer with the EU, was even more blunt, writing on Twitter: "Ukraine government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin.


'We will change this regime'


The Ukrainian government proposed three way talks with the EU and Russia to solve the trade issues but this idea was rubbished by Lithuania, which holds the EU presidency.

"There has been no such precedent in the past... that we would coordinate an association process with third countries. It's difficult to imagine a trilateral framework," Foreign minister Linas Linkevicius told AFP.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government took the decision while Yanukovych was on an official visit to Vienna, shielding the president from criticism at home.

But hundreds of Ukrainians protested the decision late Thursday on Independence Square, the hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution that forced the annulment of rigged presidential polls initially claimed by Yanukovych.

The pro-Tymoshenko opposition, which has accused Yanukovych of treason and called for his impeachment, are hoping for a protest of up to 100,000 people on Sunday to put real pressure on the government.

"Together we must prove that Ukraine will be in Europe and will be a democratic state. Together we will change this regime," said the leader of the UDAR (Punch) party, world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.

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