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Ukraine-EU trade deal deadlocked over Tymoshenko release

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-22

Ukraine halted preparations Thursday for signing a landmark trade agreement with the EU this month after lawmakers failed to agree on legislation that would free jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a key condition required by the EU.

Ukraine halted preparations Thursday for signing a landmark trade and political agreement with the European Union later this month after lawmakers failed to agree on legislation that would free jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a key condition required by the EU.

Plans were in the works for concluding the Association Agreement with the EU at a summit in Vilnius next week, a move that would have solidified Kiev's break from Moscow, which had warned of consequences for its own trade with Ukraine if the EU deal was signed.

The Association Agreement was seen as a first step to eventual EU membership.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov's government issued the order to halt the preparations, saying the decision was made to "ensure the national security of Ukraine" after taking into account the effects on trade with Russia.

It went on to cite the need to "restore lost trade volumes with the Russian Federation".

EU envoy Aleksander Kwasniewski confirmed that the deal would not be signed next week.

"The accord will not be signed in Vilnius," EU envoy Aleksander Kwasniewski and Poland's former president told his country's PAP news agency.

"Our mission is over," said Kwasniewski, who along with fellow envoy Pat Cox has over the past months shuttled between Europe and Ukraine in a bid to broker the deal.

Ukraine 'bows to Kremlin'

Tough-talking Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt slammed Ukraine's decision.

"Ukraine government suddenly bows deeply to the Kremlin," he said on Twitter. "Politics of brutal pressure evidently works."

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said it was Ukraine's "sovereign right to make a decision which path she wants to follow".

Moscow was quick to welcome the announcement.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia "welcomed a desire to improve and develop" bilateral cooperation.

Putin, whose government piled huge pressure on Ukraine in the run-up to the summit, said earlier Thursday that Moscow was not against Ukraine signing the Association Agreement.

"We are not against Ukraine's sovereign choice whatever it may be," he said, reiterating however the threat of protective measures should Ukraine join forces with Europe.

He also noted Russia was open to proposed trilateral trade talks with Europe.

"We are in favour but only until the decision is made [on Ukraine's EU integration]."

'Grounds for impeachment'

Ukrainian opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said President Viktor Yanukovych should step down for failing to clinch the deal.

"If Yanukovych is refusing to sign the agreement, then it is not only state treason but also grounds for the impeachment of the president and the dismissal of the government," he said in parliament.

The government's dramatic volte-face came after parliament voted earlier Thursday against legislation that would allow Tymoshenko to leave Ukraine for medical treatment in Germany.

This prompted European Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele – who had just returned from a three-day mission to Ukraine – to announce his return to the country later Thursday.

But after Ukraine announced its pullout from the process, Fuele scrapped his latest travel plans.

Yanukovych, who was on a visit to Austria, said his country would "work further on this path, this path to EU integration".

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.

The opposition has accused Yanukovych of having no interest in seeing Tymoshenko released ahead of 2015 polls.

The Ukrainian parliament has rejected all six bills that had been put forward on the treatment of convicts abroad after they failed to gain the support of Yanukovych's ruling party.

Opposition leaders have called for a mass rally in Kiev on Sunday to protect Ukraine's European choice.

Tymoshenko was one of the co-leaders of the 2004 Orange Revolution that forced the annulment of presidential elections claimed by Yanukovych.

However Yanukovych bounced back to win presidential elections in 2010 and just one-and-a-half years later Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years on charges of abuse of power while in office.

Tymoshenko, who suffers from back problems, is receiving treatment in a hospital in the northeastern city of Kharkiv.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

Date created : 2013-11-21

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