Russia or EU: Medvedev issues ultimatum to Ukraine

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President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday bluntly told Ukraine it was time for Kiev to decide whether it wanted closer ties with its neighbour Russia or seek European Union integration.

"You cannot be everywhere. Either here or there. Everyone should understand that including my Ukrainian friends and colleagues: you cannot sit on two chairs, you have to make some choice," Medvedev told reporters during the biggest news conference of his three-year presidency.

"I am not at all confused by Ukraine's European integration. At the end of the day this is a sovereign country and it is up to you to choose who to integrate with.

"If you want (go for) the European Union, if they await you there, or other places."

Medvedev reiterated Ukraine's European aspirations would make it hard for the ex-Soviet republic to join a customs bloc Russia is building together with neighbouring Kazakhstan and Belarus.

Since coming to power last year, Ukraine's leader Viktor Yanukovych has worked hard to perform a delicate balancing act seeking to improve relations with Moscow but also pursuing closer links with Europe.

Yanukovych's first months in power saw a rapprochement with Russia of breathtaking speed, with a deal agreed to prolong Moscow's lease on the base for its Black Sea Fleet that outraged Ukrainian nationalists.

But Ukraine appears to have imposed some limits on the improvement in economic ties, most notably by showing little enthusiasm for a Russian plan to merge gas giant Gazprom and Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz.

Yanukovych has said his administration aimed to take Ukraine towards EU membership and said it would be "realistic" for the two sides to sign an agreement on a visa-free regime from 2012.

© 2011 AFP

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