EU Says Won’t Let Up on Ukraine as Yanukovych Vows Action

The European Union said it won’t loosen the conditions for Ukraine to sign a pact on closer ties as the former Soviet republic seeks ways to meet the bloc’s terms in the next two months.

“I hope nobody in Ukraine will think that now the EU is lowering the bar and leaving the conditions we set up in December behind,” Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule said today at the annual Yalta European Strategy Conference by the Black Sea. “I can’t see this happening.”

The 28-member bloc has said issues such as the imprisonment of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are impeding the signing of an Association Agreement and free-trade accord at a summit in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in November. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said today that his nation still has time to resolve the “very difficult” Tymoshenko case.

Ukraine is seeking to cement relations with the EU at the expense of Russia, which wants its neighbor to instead join a customs union it created with Kazakhstan and Belarus. The EU pact has been delayed after Tymoshenko, an opponent of Yanukovych from the 2004 Orange Revolution, was handed a seven-year sentence for abuse of office in 2011, a move the bloc deems selective justice.

Yanukovych said today that he can’t pardon her while other outstanding court cases against her remain unresolved.

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Tymoshenko may not need to be freed for Ukraine’s EU deal to proceed, according to Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country holds the bloc’s rotating presidency through year-end. A package of measures including treatment for the former premier’s back complaints and a reduced sentence are under discussion, she said.

Russia, which disrupted the passage of Ukrainian goods over its border last month, is seeking to thwart its neighbor’s pact with the EU, Grybauskaite said. Ukraine is “too big, too strong and too important to allow others to decide on its future,” she told the conference.

Fule called Russian pressure on Ukraine “unacceptable” and said the EU stands by the nation, which “should have full rights to make its own sovereign decision.”

European politicians are pressing Ukraine to renounce part of its sovereignty and surrender its trade and economic relations to the control of Brussels, according to a draft statement on the website of Russia’s lower house of parliament.

The Association Agreement makes Ukraine “change its legislation according to EU templates without the power to influence decision-making in matters crucial to its own economy,” lawmakers said in the statement.

While Yanukovych reaffirmed his commitment to European integration, he also said he’s seeking ways to work with Russia’s customs union as long as they don’t harm the EU accord.

“Ukraine doesn’t want to contradict process of east and west -- we want to unite it,” he said. “We want to remove all trade barriers.”