EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has announced that Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych intends to sign a deal on closer EU ties after all.
Baroness Catherine Ashton was speaking as pro-EU protesters continued to paralyze the centre of Kiev over Viktor Yanokovych’s decision not to sign the EU association agreement.
The president’s U-turn late last month followed pressure from Russia.
Catherine Ashton said Viktor Yanukovych had assured her when they met that his aim was to sign the agreement.
The baroness did not give an indication of when she expected this to happen.
She said his concern during their talks was the “short term economic issues” that Ukraine faced.
Viktor Yanukovych pulled out of the deal last month, explaining that Kiev could not afford to sacrifice trade with Russia. While adding that he still aimed to sign the deal, Viktor Yanukovych said Ukraine would need at least 20 billion euros ($27 billion) a year to upgrade its economy.
Catherine Ashton said on Thursday: “It is my view that those challenges, which are real, can be addressed by the support that not only comes from the European Union institutions, but actually by showing that he has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement also will help to bring in the kind of investment that he needs.”
The Ukrainian government’s handling of the pro-EU protests in Independence Square in Kiev has met with a stern response from both the European Union and the US.
Police moved into the main protest camp in the early hours of Wednesday, prompting US Secretary of State John Kerry to express “disgust” at the government’s treatment of a peaceful protest.
At least nine people were detained and there were some reports of police using violence. The state department said later it was considering a range of responses including sanctions.
After her meeting with Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday, Catherine Ashton said she had insisted on the release of anyone arrested because of the protests and that the Ukrainian president had assured her that would happen.
Moscow is concerned the EU free trade deal with Kiev would flood the Russian market and wants Ukraine to sign up to a customs union that includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.
In his annual address to the Russian parliament on Thursday, President Vladimir Putin said he hoped a solution to Ukraine’s crisis could be found and insisted the customs union would not be forced on Kiev.
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