Ukrainian president tentatively backs EU partnership

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The EU initiative is aimed at spreading development, democracy and stability in several Eastern European states.

Berlin -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko expressed guarded support for a European Union bid to improve ties with his country and five others in Eastern Europe, in an interview with European media published Monday.

"It is not a bad initiative,” he told European media, including Der Tagesspiegel in Berlin. “It is very good that the European Union is developing its own strategy for contact with Eastern European countries. That's why Ukraine is not opposed to this initiative.”

The EU is launching its "Eastern Partnership" in Prague on Thursday, aiming to help spread development, democracy and stability to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine.

The initiative is an enhanced version of an existing EU campaign to help the Eastern European states introduce economic and political reforms.

But it does not offer the prospect of EU membership, something Ukraine in particular, is hoping for.

"The Eastern Partnership is not an alternative to everything," Yushchenko said, adding that Ukraine's accession to the EU would offer "as many advantages to the EU as it would to Ukraine."

Yushchenko also criticised the EU's response to the gas dispute between Moscow and Kiev which led to Russia cutting off supplies via Ukraine in January, Der Tagesspiegel reported.

"The European Union did not have the courage to put forward a stronger response to this crisis," he said of the dispute that left many European countries without gas in the middle of winter.

Last week, Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin pledged to cooperate on energy issues in a bid to repair strained relations.

Yushchenko repeated that he "wanted better relations" with Moscow, but he said "that depends especially on Russia."


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