EU 'disappointed' Ukraine renounced historic deal
The European Union voiced "disappointment" Thursday over Ukraine's sudden decision to suspend efforts to strike a ground-breaking political and trade deal due for signature next week.
"This is a disappointment not just for the EU but, we believe, for the people of Ukraine," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in a response to Kiev's surprise decision earlier Thursday.
A separate statement from the European Parliament's two special envoys -- ex parliament president Pat Cox and former Polish president Aleksander Kwasniewski -- also expressed "deep disappointment at the unilateral decision" by Kiev.
A week before the scheduled signing of the far-reaching deal at a high-profile summit in the Lithuanian capital, Ukraine suspended talks over the agreement seen as a step away from historic master Moscow. The government cited a need to restore the volume of trade with Russia.
"We believe that the future for Ukraine lies in a strong relationship with the EU and we stand firm in our commitment to the people of Ukraine who would have been the main beneficiaries" due to "enhanced freedom and prosperity", Ashton said in a statement.
A decree issued by Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government ordered the "halt of the process of preparing the Association Agreement" to protect "the national security of Ukraine" after taking into account the effects on trade with Russia.
It spoke of the need to "restore lost trade volumes with the Russian Federation."
Describing the deal to have been inked at the November 28-29 summit in Vilnius as "the most ambitious" ever offered to a partner by the EU, Ashton said it would have bolstered reforms in Ukraine and helped ease economic strains.
The deal would have "sent a clear signal to investors worldwide as well as to international financial institutions that Ukraine is serious about its modernisation pledge and becoming a predictable and reliable interlocutor for international markets," the statement said.
"It would have provided a unique opportunity to reverse the recent discouraging trend of decreasing foreign direct investment in Ukraine and would have given momentum to negotiations on a new standby arrangement with the IMF."
Cox and Kwasniewski in their statement took note of the Ukrainian government's remarks "on the stressed state of the economy and the dramatically increased pressure from Russia in recent weeks."
Moscow was quick to welcome the announcement with President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying Russia "welcomed a desire to improve and develop" bilateral cooperation.
EU leaders have repeatedly warned that Ukraine may not have another chance of signing the agreement for several years, with the EU Commission due to change in 2014 and Ukraine set for presidential elections in 2015.
Cox and Kwasniewski, who have been to Ukraine 26 times in efforts to secure the deal, said Ukraine's decision to take time out on the talks "is not without clear downside risks".
Thursday's suspension is likely "to last for considerable time" and complicate efforts to renew the process, they said in their statement.
The two will return to the Ukraine parliament on Friday and then travel to the northeastern city of Kharkiv to meet with jailed former premier Yulia TYmoshenko, who is receiving treatment in a hospital there.
Opposition leaders have called for a mass rally in Kiev on Sunday to protect Ukraine's European choice.
© 2013 AFP