Ukraine Put EU Association on Hold, Not Rejected It – President

Ukraine Put EU Association on Hold, Not Rejected It – President
# 19 December 2013 17:14 (UTC +04:00)

Baku-APA. Kiev put its political association and free-trade talks with the European Union on hold, but is ready to resume them if favorable terms are offered, the Ukrainian president said Thursday, APA reports quoting RIA Novosti.

Viktor Yanukovych said in a televised interview with Ukrainian media that his government currently has no answer to how potential negative economic consequences of the free-trade zone agreement could be reduced to acceptable levels.

“We took a pause today to examine the terms of a free-trade zone agreement,” he said. “When we are satisfied with the terms, when we see that they are beneficial to us, that our national interests are protected, then, undoubtedly, we will respond positively.”

The president also said his country’s observer status in the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan does not prevent Ukraine from signing the EU association agreement, as feared by many Western-leaning politicians, organizations and media.

The country’s government would consider joining some of the union’s agreements and “decide, in a transparent manner, which of them we choose to join,” he said.

Ukraine became a pivotal point in a diplomatic tug-of-war between Russia and the European Union after it had announced last month that it was giving preparations of an association agreement and trade pact with the EU. In a move that stunned Europe, Kiev opted for ties with the Moscow-led Customs Union trade bloc.

Ukraine’s rejection of the EU deal has prompted mass protests and thrown the country into a political crisis, with hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians attending rallies demanding that the government be disbanded and early elections be held.

In an apparent swipe at the West, Yanukovych also warned that interference by other countries into Ukraine’s domestic affairs was inadmissible.

“It is very important that other countries stop interfering in our internal issues and give up the idea of coming here and doing their businesses how they want and where they want, on the [Independence] Square or not,” he said, apparently referring to a number of high-ranking Western officials, who visited protest camps in Kiev, including the downtown Independence Square.

“I strongly oppose the idea of anyone coming to our country and teaching us how we should live here,” Yanukovych went on.

He said the country has been gradually recovering from the political crisis as the Ukrainian parliament resumed its work earlier on Thursday.

The comments by Yanukovych, which show an apparent tilt toward Russia, came two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a major deal to help Ukraine keep its economy afloat. That deal includes the purchase of $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds and a substantial discount for Russian gas.

The Ukrainian government and parliament are yet to decide on how the funds should be invested, but Yanukovych said that development projects and the social sphere will be considered a priority.

Yanukovych said that the deal “does not contradict any of Ukraine’s aspirations to any integration” and concerns only the economic aspect of its relations with Russia.

Addressing concerns that Ukraine had to pawn whole sectors of its economy to Russia to secure the deal, Yanukovych said that Kiev had no other responsibilities under the bailout other than 5 percent interest on the loan. He described it as “certainly advantageous” for Ukraine.

Experts suggested that the deal clears the way for Russian energy giant Gazprom to receive a stake in Ukraine’s gas transportation system or the ability to otherwise participate in decision-making.

Speaking about the idea of creating a three-party consortium of Ukraine, Russia and European Union to manage and modernize Ukraine's dilapidated gas pipeline network, the Ukrainian leader said that “doors are open” to practical talks on the proposal.

Kiev and Moscow discussed the project back in the early 2000s. However, when West-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko came to power in Ukraine, the project was put on hold. The Ukrainian authorities said at the time that leasing out the gas transport network would jeopardize Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Yanukovych said that before the deal was signed, volumes of gas pumped via the country’s gas transit system had fallen to levels that threaten normal operations of Ukrainian pipeline network and the economic stability of the Ukrainian state.