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EU Offers Some Reassurance to Ukraine Over Membership


Leaders of the European Union and Ukraine said Tuesday that they will sign off on an agreement next year that will deepen their ties, but the 27-nation bloc stopped short of offering Kiev the firm EU membership pledge it had hoped for. Lisa Bryant has more for VOA from Paris.

The outcome of the summit between Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko and President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, the current European Union president, held few surprises.

As expected, the EU agreed to establish an association agreement with Ukraine, a key step toward possible free trade and travel deals between the two sides in the future. But it stopped short of offering Ukraine a clear guarantee it might someday become an EU member.

At a press conference following the Paris talks, President Sarkozy hailed the agreement as opening doors and not closing any. He said it marked a watershed in the language of the agreement, and for the moment, it was as far as the EU could go.

Andrew Wilson, a Russia and eastern European expert for the European Council on Foreign Relations in London said the outcome of Tuesday's talks was a clear step forward for Ukraine.

"On balance it's good news for Ukraine compared to where we were four years ago, three years ago or even three months ago. The problem with these kinds of summits is that often expectations race ahead. Clearly Ukrainian expectations were very high, probably too high. But give what has been achieved in practice, Ukraine has got quite a lot," he said.

Ukraine is an important energy route for Europe and seen as crucial to the long-term goal of the EU to secure its energy supply. It now relies heavily on Russian oil and gas. Many countries in the union, however, are at odds over Ukraine's membership.

Mr. Sarkozy was in Russia and Georgia on Monday, where he obtained Russian agreement to withdraw its forces from most of Georgia by October - excluding the key breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, in a bid to end the conflict in the region.