German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a trade accord between the European Union and Ukraine won’t be signed at a summit that started late yesterday, after a senior Ukrainian official predicted a “positive result.”
The government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych last week halted plans to sign an association agreement and free-trade treaty at the two-day meeting in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. The 28-member EU has said the offer remains on the table. First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov said Ukraine is “ready to find a solution.”
“Unfortunately not all expectations have been fulfilled,” Merkel told reporters as she entered the meeting. “We will make very clear here that the EU is ready to accept Ukraine as an associate member, to sign the association treaty. Then we will see. We have no hope that it will happen this time, but the door is open.”
Ukraine’s snub of the trade deal halted a process that would have cemented the nation of 45 million in the EU’s orbit. That sparked the biggest street protests since the Orange Revolution nine years ago, in which an opposition group including Yulia Tymoshenko overturned a presidential election initially won by Yanukovych.
Tymoshenko, who’s serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office, has urged EU leaders to drop her release as a pre-requisite for the agreement.
Merkel and most of the leaders from the EU’s 28 states sat down with Yanukovych at close to 9 p.m. yesterday in Vilnius. The Ukrainian leader said he was in a “fine” mood as he entered the talks. The summit continues today.
Yanukovych should listed to the Ukrainian people, said European Parliament President Martin Schultz, hinting that the EU may have to wait to sign the agreement until a new leader emerges in Kiev.
“What’s very certain is that the president of a country isn’t the country,” Schultz said before the meeting. “One can agree with Yanukovych or not. Maybe another government with another orientation will come to power.”
In addition to Yanukovych, EU officials met in Vilnius with leaders of Ukraine’s opposition, some of whom used the publicity to further their electoral ambitions.
“We’ll do everything to remove the government if Yanukovych doesn’t sign the agreement,” opposition leader and heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko told reporters. “The new government will have to sign the integration agreement for Ukraine to become a true European country.” He also spoke in Lithuania’s parliament.
Yanukovych has said the EU’s offer doesn’t provide sufficient protection from possible trade sanctions from Russia, which disrupted exports from its neighbor in August in protest at the proposed agreement. He has said that he still aims to complete the deal before his term ends in 2015.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he doesn’t oppose the deal, his suggestion of three-way talks with Ukraine and the EU has been rejected by the bloc.
The EU and Russia each buy about a quarter of exports from Ukraine, the second-most populous ex-Soviet republic. Ukraine shouldn’t have to chose between the two as countries “must be able to decide freely” about their international relations, Merkel said in Berlin before her trip to Lithuania.
“We have to get over this either-or mentality,” Merkel said. “The Cold War is over.”
More than 100,000 people marched through Kiev on Nov. 24. to protest against the government. Forty-five percent of Ukrainians think that the country should sign the EU agreement, according to a survey by GfK Ukraine last month, while 14 percent would prefer the Russia-led Customs Union and 15 percent said the country should stay away from both.
“The European Union will be ready to resume the preparations for signature of the association agreement as soon as Ukraine is ready to resume on its part,” EU enlargement chief Stefan Fule said.
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