Ukraine has suspended preparations for a trade deal with the EU after a government statement said the decision had been taken to protect the country’s “national security”.
Hours earlier MPs rejected a bill that would have allowed jailed former PM Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country – which the EU had demanded as a condition for the deal to proceed.
Ukraine had come under intense pressure from Russia not to sign the historic EU deal at a summit next week.
The Ukrainian government said on Thursday that it was instead looking into setting up a joint commission to promote ties between Ukraine, Russia and the EU.
Russia wants Ukraine to join its own customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, which it sees as a prototype rival to the EU.
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych was later quoted by AFP as saying Ukraine “will work further on this path, this path to EU integration”, although it is not clear how this tallies with the suspension of preparations for the deal.
On Thursday MPs threw out six drafts of the bill which would have allowed Yulia Tymoshenko to travel abroad for medical treatment.
The EU is sending a top envoy to Kiev.
Stefan Fuele, European commissioner for enlargement, is travelling to the Ukrainian capital on Thursday, for the second time this week.
The bill failed to pass after MPs from President Viktor Yanukovych’s ruling Regions Party refused to cast their votes on any of the six proposed drafts.
The drafts all fell short of the 226 votes needed.
“It is President Viktor Yanukovych who is personally blocking Ukraine’s movement toward the European Union,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, parliamentary leader of Yulia Tymoshenko’s opposition Fatherland group, told parliament after the vote failed.
Opposition MPs responded by shouting “shame” as the bill was thrown out.
The legislation proposed that convicts be allowed medical treatment abroad.
Yulia Tymoshenko, 52, is serving seven years in jail after a controversial conviction on charges of abuse of power over a gas deal with Russia.
The EU has made clear it believes the judicial campaign against Yulia Tymoshenko has been politically motivated.
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