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EU Deal Aims for Closer Ties With Ukraine

Netherlands' Prime Minister Mark Rutte holds a news conference during an EU Summit at the European Council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium Dec. 15, 2016.

European Union leaders on Thursday agreed to a compromise with representatives from the Netherlands that will allow increased cooperation and trade with Ukraine.

The Netherlands is the only country that has not ratified a so-called association agreement between the EU and Ukraine that would help the country achieve closer relations with the West.

In 2014, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power after he tried to do away with the deal and massive amounts of protesters took to the streets in opposition to his actions, which were seen as a way to more closely align Ukraine with Russia.

In response to the removal of Yanukovych, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula and supported a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, which has so far killed almost 10,000 people.

Russia 'an increasing risk'

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters prior to the EU meeting it is imperative that the Netherlands now ratify the agreement as a way to combat increasing Russian influence in Europe.

“Russia is an increasing risk, look what happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and rockets being placed between Poland and Lithuania. You cannot, as the Netherlands ... break this unity. That is why I'm so motivated to get this done,” he said.

Rutte now will put the agreement up for a vote by lawmakers in the Dutch parliament. Dutch voters voted to block the agreement during a referendum vote in April 2015, but if lawmakers agree to enact the compromise it would override that vote.

Sanctions against Russia to continue

EU leaders also agreed Thursday to extend economic sanctions against Russia as punishment for the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. The sanctions will extend for another six months into mid-2017.