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.
Reuters
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

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs