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Lithuania Urges EU to Back Free-Trade Pact With Ukraine

Lithuania called on European Union leaders to approve a free-trade accord with Ukraine to show the bloc is serious about pursuing closer ties with the former Soviet republic.

The trade pact would potentially precede a planned Association Agreement to reassure Ukraine and encourage it to boost democratic standards, the Foreign Ministry in the capital, Vilnius, said today on its website. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is due to visit the Baltic nation Feb. 6 before meeting EU officials in Brussels Feb. 25.

The signing of the Association Agreement, originally scheduled for 2011, has been delayed because the 27-nation bloc objects to the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister. Russia wants Ukraine, whose economy is in recession, to join a customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan in exchange for cheaper natural gas.

“A free-trade area would create substantial economic benefits for both the European Union and Ukraine,” Vytautas Leskevicius, Lithuania’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said today in Brussels at a preparatory session for a European Council meeting that starts Feb. 7, according to the ministry. Lithuania, which holds the rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2013, wants Ukraine’s Association Agreement finalized at a summit in Vilnius in November, it said.

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