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December 20, 2013

EU Vows Tough Summit With Russia on Ukraine

by VOA News

European Union leaders are promising to confront Russia at an upcoming summit about what the giant trade bloc says is undue Russian pressure to steer Ukraine away from an economic alliance with the West and toward Moscow.

EU President Herman van Rompuy voiced his displeasure Friday with Moscow, saying EU leaders would use the EU-Russia summit in late January to address their complaints. He predicted the Brussels summit would be "interesting and challenging."

Van Rompuy spoke as protests continued Friday in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities against President Viktor Yanukovych's surprise move last month to scuttle an EU trade deal in favor of strengthening economic ties with Moscow.

Yanukovych has harshly criticized the West for supporting the pro-EU protesters, who have rallied in central Kyiv for nearly a month to demand that the president and his government step down.  

The Ukrainian leader Friday rejected calls for early elections, after announcing plans earlier this week to join a Russian-led regional economic union that Moscow foresees as an eventual rival to the EU.

EU officials have long argued that a Ukrainian move toward the EU would open the former Soviet satellite country to a potential market of 500 million western European consumers, as well as more than $20 billion in aid over the next seven years.

The EU, however, has not yet offered concrete, immediate incentives to Kyiv to compete with Russia's pledge this week to lend Ukraine $15 billion and provide a steep discount on natural gas prices.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking Thursday on national television, insisted the Russian bailout was driven by a desire to help a partner in dire straits, and not to lure Kyiv away from the EU.