Merkel unsure whether Ukraine 'willing' to sign EU pact

18th November 2013, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday it remained unclear whether Ukraine was "willing" to meet the conditions for a key free-trade deal with the European Union to be signed next week.

Merkel said she realised that Ukraine saw itself under pressure to choose between the EU and neighbouring Russia, which wants the former Soviet republic to join its own Customs Union instead.

"I have to say today that it is not yet certain whether Ukraine is willing to fulfil the criteria for a possible association agreement (with the EU)," she told the Bundestag lower house of parliament.

"If Ukraine meets our expectations and the association agreement can be signed, then the EU can lend support in case of a situation in which Ukraine is confronted with penalties from Russia."

She cited as examples additional export opportunities for products that could no longer be sold to Russia or help diversifying energy supplies.

Ukraine and the EU are set to sign a deal in the Lithuanian capital November 28-29 marking a first step towards entry into the bloc -- but only on condition Kiev meets basic principles, including a fair judicial system.

Crucial to that is for Ukraine's parliament to pass legislation allowing jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko to go abroad for medical treatment and to clarify the conditions of her return -- whether and when she can re-enter the political arena.

The opposition leader is serving time for disputed abuse of power charges she says were ordered as political revenge by President Viktor Yanukovych.

Germany has offered her medical care for persistent back problems.

Merkel said she had repeatedly attempted to make clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that closer relations between the EU and the countries on Russia's backdoor were not intended to antagonise Moscow and that Russia could stand to gain from greater prosperity in the region.

"The countries decide on their own on their future orientation -- no third party may have a right of veto," she said.

Merkel said that 24 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the countries of eastern Europe also had a right to benefit from the fact that "the Cold War is over."

© 2013 AFP

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