Ukraine would need to hold a referendum if officials decided to seek membership of the Russia-led customs union or the European Union, President Viktor Yanukovych said.
“We don’t know when the decision will be made to join the EU or the customs union,” Yanukovych said today in a statement on his website, which cited an interview with Ukraine’s four biggest television channels. “In any case we will not be able to proceed without a referendum.”
The Ukrainian leader said he’s sure his country will meet all the necessary conditions to sign an Association Agreement and form a free-trade zone with the 28-member EU in November, a move Russia has said would block any potential membership of the customs union.
Russia has offered its neighbor cheaper natural gas if it joins its union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan, and has threatened stricter border controls should Ukraine proceed with the EU accord. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said this week that the country needs to find ways to work with the customs union after signing the European pact.
“The idea of a referendum is meant to send a message more to Moscow, raising a hurdle to signing up to membership of the customs union, which the Ukrainians would rather not do,” Tim Ash, chief emerging-markets strategist at Standard Bank in London, said in an e-mailed note. “It seems clear now in my mind that Ukraine wants to sign up to the” EU agreement.
Ukraine will continue to diversify gas supplies by buying gas in Europe, according to Yanukovych, who called proposals by Russia over a new import contract “demeaning.” He reiterated that Ukraine won’t raise domestic energy tariffs, a step the International Monetary Fund has demanded in bailout talks.
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