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EU still wants Ukraine deal, but not at any price, leaders say

Fri, 20th Dec 2013 10:53

Brussels (Alliance News) - EU leaders hardened their position Friday against Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, digging in their heels over the bloc's refusal to dig deeper into its wallet for Kiev to sign a landmark political and free trade deal.

"Europe is open for (the) Ukrainian people. But not necessarily for this government," Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said at the start of the second day of a Brussels summit. Her country currently holds the bloc's presidency.

"This is not a question of money," said Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, calling the association agreement a "value choice."

"We are not carpet dealers," Luxembourg's new prime minister, Xavier Bettel said, referring to Ukraine's efforts to improve the offer.

Ukraine had asked the EU for more funds to help cover the costs associated with signing the deal. After the bloc refused at a summit in Vilnius last month, Yanukovych agreed to accept cut-price gas and loans from Russia, which has been vying for closer ties with Kiev.

He also put on ice the association deal, prompting large pro-European protests and calls for the president to resign.

"You can feel huge endorsement in the Ukrainian population for the EU," said Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann. "We cannot desert the people who now have hopes in us."

At the same time, they said the issue had to be settled within Ukraine.

"It would not be opportune for us to impose something that could possibly divide the country," Bettel said.

The issue has also strained relations between Brussels and Moscow, ahead of an EU-Russia summit in late January.

On Wednesday, Russia President Vladimir Putin said his country could offer Kiev more than Brussels could, since Ukraine's exports to the EU were mainly agricultural, compared to its industrial sales to Russia.

"If Ukraine adopts EU standards, it cannot sell anything to Russia any more," Putin said in his annual press conference. "If they sign with the EU, ... they will become an agricultural annex."

The bloc's leaders were expected to issue a statement Friday confirming their readiness to enter into the association deal, "as soon as Ukraine is ready and the relevant conditions are met," according to a draft seen by dpa.

It also includes calls for a "peaceful solution to the political crisis in Ukraine that would meet the aspirations of the Ukrainian people."

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament on Friday adjourned for the New Year holidays. Parliamentary Speaker Vladimir Rybak said the next session would be on January 14.

On Thursday, lawmakers had already postponed a vote over the next state budget to January 16. The opposition ended its blockade of the speaker's dais, which had paralyzed sessions for weeks.

A few hundred activists continued to guard the barricades on Independence Square in the capital Kiev. The square, known as the Maidan, had been the epicentre of the protest against the government's U-turn over an EU agreement.

A Kiev city court was to rule on the barricades' removal in late January.

Copyright dpa

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