News / Europe

EU Leaders Set for Tough Table-talk with Ukraine's Yanukovich

A Ukrainian police officer stands by as the flags of radical party Svoboda (Freedom) are reflected in the window during a protest against political repression in front of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry headquarters in Kiyv, Nov. 28, 2013.
A Ukrainian police officer stands by as the flags of radical party Svoboda (Freedom) are reflected in the window during a protest against political repression in front of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry headquarters in Kiyv, Nov. 28, 2013.
The European Union told Ukraine on Thursday its rejection of a free-trade deal in favor of closer ties with Russia would risk its economic future, as EU leaders prepared for what is likely to be a fraught meeting with President Viktor Yanukovich.
Yanukovich was due to fly into the Lithuanian capital Vilnius in time for a dinner in honor of the Eastern Partnership, the EU's four-year-old program of outreach to former Soviet states Including Ukraine.
He had been expected to sign a far-reaching free-trade and political association deal with the EU at the Vilnius summit, the result of years of negotiation.
But last week, following intense pressure from Moscow and growing concerns about Ukraine's dire economic situation, Yanukovich announced he was not ready to sign the EU deal yet and would instead focus on reviving economic dialog with Russia.
Speaking a few hours before Yanukovich was due to arrive on Thursday, EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele warned Ukraine that its decision to walk away from the agreement could imperil its future.
Disputing Ukraine's figures for the cost of upgrading its economic base to European standards, Fuele said: “The Ukrainian economy needs huge investments but these are not costs. They represent future income, more growth, more jobs and more wealth.”
“The only costs that I can see are the costs of inaction allowing more stagnation of the economy and risking the economic future and health of the country,” he told a business forum in Vilnius, adding that the EU offer remained on the table.
Yanukovich himself set the scene for a frosty encounter by dismissing the EU's trade offer as “humiliating”. The 600 million euros ($800 million), or so, of support on offer was “candy in a pretty wrapper”, he said.
But his presence at the EU gathering - without signing the agreement - indicates he does not want to burn his bridges with the EU and leave his country's economic future solely to Russia. His government says the suspension of the deal with the EU marks only a “pause” in moves to integrate Ukraine into the European mainstream.
He has accepted short-term support from Moscow, which supplies Ukraine half of its gas needs, without committing to Russia's Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus, and all the while keeping the EU within reach.
Defending Kiev's decision, First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov told the Vilnius forum: “The country cannot be ready for such serious decision (to sign) if the social-economic situation is not balanced.”
“No about-face has taken place. We are confidently moving towards an aim which we have set. Ukrainians need Europe and the European path is the only one for us,” he said.
Eye on the prize
The EU will still go ahead with initialing political association agreements with two other ex-Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, putting them on track to sign formally in around a year. A visa agreement with Azerbaijan will also be signed.
Belarus and Armenia will also attend the summit, though there seems little prospect of their moving closer to the EU. Belarus is a member of the Russia-led Customs union, which Armenia has also opted to join.
But the biggest prize in the Eastern Partnership was always Ukraine, a vast country of 46 million people that borders four EU member states, and it will be something of an elephant in the room during the dinner on Thursday night.
EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron, will hold a pre-dinner meeting in Vilnius to work out how to handle the situation with Yanukovich, officials said.
The ghost at the banquet is likely to be Yulia Tymoshenko.
EU leaders will have an opportunity to press the case of the jailed former prime minister, a bitter Yanukovich rival who was convicted of abuse of power in 2011, after a trial the EU says was political.
Tymoshenko declared a hunger strike on Monday and has given her support to the tens of thousands of Ukrainians who have demonstrated in Kiev against the rejection of the EU deal.
On the eve of the summit, Yanukovich told the EU on Wednesday to stop meddling in her case and appeared likely to retort that her guilt had been proven in a Ukrainian court.
Way forward?

EU leaders may also try to understand from Yanukovich how he intends to balance his acceptance of help from Russia with his stated aim of moving closer to the EU. Russia and Ukraine have suggested three-way talks with the EU, but that is not acceptable to Brussels.
“These are bilateral programs between the EU and the Eastern Partnership countries. It's not about negotiating three-ways with Russia,” said an official from Lithuania, which holds the EU presidency and has planned the Vilnius summit.
It is not clear what Russian President Vladimir Putin did to get Yanukovich to shift position, but diplomats in Brussels, Kiev and Moscow have suggested Russia will give Ukraine a more favorable gas-supply deal and better terms on repaying 1.3 billion euros of debt.
It will also reopen trade flows that have been interrupted since Yanukovich started making his overtures to Brussels.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs