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EU Unveils $650 Million Aid Package for Ukraine

The European Commission has announced a nearly $650 million aid package for Ukraine over the next four years, to help Kyiv enact European Union-backed political and economic reforms.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, in a statement Wednesday, said the aid is aimed at strengthening good governance and democratic institutions. The statement also said the aid would encourage joint cooperation in key sectors, such as energy, transport and the environment.

The announcement comes before a visit Thursday to EU headquarters in Brussels by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who is expected to lobby for Ukraine's future admittance to the 27-nation trade bloc.

Ukraine and EU delegates began talks Monday aimed at developing closer economic and political ties. But the union has stopped short of guaranteeing Ukraine will one day be admitted into the European bloc.

In other developments, President Yushchenko is in Poland for talks with his Polish counterpart, Lech Kaczynski, on extending a nearly 700-kilometer pipeline to the central city of Plock.

In Plock, the two leaders announced plans for a five-nation energy summit with leaders from Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Georgia to discuss moving Caspian sea oil westward.

Plans call for pumping Caspian oil to refineries in Plock, to ease dependence on Russian supplies. Russia briefly interrupted its westward flow of energy supplies in 2006 and earlier this year, in a series of energy pricing disputes with its neighbors.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.