Ukraine President Wants to Sign EU Deal12/12 07:21
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukrainian officials were heading Thursday to Brussels
for talks with the European Union as the bloc's foreign policy chief said the
country's embattled president "intends to sign" at some point a trade and
cooperation agreement he rejected last month.
Demonstrators angry over President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to shelve
the long-anticipated agreement will be watching the meeting closely, worried
that the leader could instead sign an agreement to join a Russia-led customs
union when he and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet next week.
Yanukovych appears to be in a tough corner. As protesters furious over his
decision to turn away from the EU clog the center of Kiev, he appears to be
leaving his options open for the best deal he can get from his economically
troubled country's powerful suitors.
Russia has put heavy pressure on Ukraine to join its bloc, which also
includes Belarus and Kazakhstan. Opponents say the bloc effectively tries to
recreate the Soviet Union.
Yanukovych has said he is still open to the EU association agreement if
terms can be worked out that provide more aid to Ukraine, which is concerned
about the impact of losing trade with Russia. The talks between the EU and the
Ukrainian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov could bring
clarity on whether such aid is possible.
The Kiev protests swelled to hundreds of thousands after police violently
broke up two early rallies. Demonstrators are riding a wave of high morale
after riot police stood down from two confrontations with protesters on
Squadrons of helmeted police deployed at the protesters' tent camp in
Independence Square and at the protester-occupied city hall, but left hours
later in the face of demonstrator defiance.
Protesters are reinforcing their positions in Kiev's center, erecting
sizeable new barricades across streets leading to Independence Square.
EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, who talked with Yanukovych and
opposition figures in Kiev this week, said it was clear that the short-term
economic and financial issues Ukraine faces can be alleviated by signing the
deal, which she said would bring in fresh investment from EU nations.
"Look, Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the
association agreement," Ashton said on arrival for a meeting in Brussels early
Thursday after her visit to Kiev.
Ashton said Ukraine's economic problems "can be addressed by the support
that not only comes from the EU institutions, but actually by showing that he
has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement."
The signature on the EU association agreement "will help to bring in the
kind of investment that he needs," she said.
Ukrainians in the east look more favorably on closer ties with their giant
neighbor. Yanukovych, who is seeking a bailout loan from the International
Monetary Fund to keep Ukraine from going bankrupt, is sensitive to the economic
disruption that trade disputes with Russia can cause.