Ukraine leader sees EU seat in 10 years

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Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said Friday he was certain his country would soon resolve its current tensions with the European Union and join the 27-nation bloc within the next 10 years.

Yanukovych said in an article published in the influential Dzerkalo Tizhnya online magazine that good neighbourly relations with Russia did not prevent Ukraine from aspiring to become a member of the Brussels-based union.

"The time will come, and in another 10 years or so, Ukraine will be a part of the European Union -- it will be one of the developed nations," Yanukovych said in his first reference to a specific EU membership date.

"We have firmly decided our future. The choice of Europe has become the basis of Ukraine's foreign policy identity," he said.

Yanukovych made his comments in the midst of unprecedented European criticism of his government's pursuit of a criminal case against his one-time election rival and current opposition leader Yulia Tymoshchenko.

He was seen as the more Russian-friendly candidate when he beat Tymoshchenko in a close ballot last year and has been forced to fend off accusations that he was pursuing a political vendetta against his old foe.

Some analysts suggest European disapproval of Tymoshchenko's treatment may delay the approval of a new association agreement between Ukraine and the EU -- seen as a the first step to formal membership.

Yanukovych addressed those concerns directly by saying this would benefit neither side.

"We are convinced that the association agreement and the creation of a deep and comprehensive free trade area are what both Ukraine and the European Union need today," Yanukovych said.

"I hope that our partners understand this."

© 2011 AFP

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