Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends to sign” the far-reaching trade and cooperation agreement with the EU that he rejected only last month, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said yesterday after talks with the embattled leader.
Ashton said it was clear that the short-term economic and financial issues Ukraine faces could be alleviated by signing the association agreement, which she said would bring in fresh investment from EU nations.
“Look, Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement,” Ashton said on arrival for a meeting in Brussels early yesterday after her visit to Kiev.
When Yanukovych rejected the deal last month, he also made it clear he sought closer links with Russia instead. Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the weeks since to call for closer ties to the EU and a shift from Russia, which has ruled or dominated Ukraine for centuries.
EU and other Western diplomats have increased their pressure on Yanukovych to seek a solution to the tensions that have paralyzed the economically troubled nation of 46 million. Yanukovych has maintained that a deal with the EU could still be worked out if Kiev was offered better conditions.
Ashton said Ukraine’s economic problems “can be addressed by the support that not only comes from the EU institutions, but actually by showing that he has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement.”
The signature on the EU association agreement “will help to bring in the kind of investment that he needs,” she said.
Ukrainians in the east look more favorably on closer ties with their giant neighbor, and Russia has worked hard to derail the accord. Yanukovych, who is seeking a bailout loan from the IMF to keep Ukraine from going bankrupt, is sensitive to the economic disruption that trade disputes with Russia can cause.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday said that Ukraine was still welcome, but not obliged to work with Moscow on its post-Soviet Customs Union, seen as a potential counterweight to the EU.
“We are not imposing anything on anyone, but if our [Ukrainian] friends want joint work [on the Customs Union], we are ready for a continuation of that work at expert level,” Putin said in his annual address to the nation, as pro-EU protests raged in Ukraine.
Kazakhstan and Belarus are already in the Kremlin-led union, while Armenia and Kyrgyzstan are planning to join. However, most analysts believe it will only be complete if Ukraine joins.