Putin, Yanukovych promise closer economic ties amid Ukraine protests

CNN
Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 10:43am

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said he and Russia's Vladimir Putin had agreed a joint economic plan and would deepen their strategic cooperation, following a meeting in Moscow on Tuesday.

The meeting took place amid continuing protests in Ukraine over the prospect of closer economic ties with Russia, rather than Europe.

Yanukovych said the joint plan of action would cover areas including industry, agriculture, defense, construction and transport.

Both presidents said the planned cooperation would be "mutually beneficial" to both economies.

Yanukovych said the focus was on "economic areas, which is basis of our working together in a bilateral way."

A statement on his website said he "emphasized the importance of developing interregional cooperation and cross-border trade."

"We are ready to look at the possibility of rapprochement in economic and political spheres," Putin said.

Full details of the joint plans were not immediately disclosed.

After months of talks, Yanukovych in November spurned a European Union trade deal in favor of closer economic ties with Moscow, sparking mass protests in Kiev that have paralyzed the capital's center.

Ahead of Tuesday's talks in Moscow, Prime Minister Mykola Azarov rejected claims that Ukraine was leaning toward joining Russia and other former Soviet republics, Belarus and Kazakhstan, in a Customs Union.

"These are speculations. None of the papers we have prepared are in any way related to the Customs Union," he said.

Meanwhile, demonstrators opposed to closer ties with Russia have continued to stand their ground, camping out in freezing temperatures in Kiev's Independence Square, or Maidan, and barricading surrounding streets.

They were out in the tens of thousands Sunday -- the fourth weekend in a row -- urging their leaders to mend ties with Europe.

Economic issues

EU foreign ministers held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday in Brussels, Belgium.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Moscow should not fear "a detrimental effect on Russia" as a result of Ukraine's signature of the EU deal.

"I don't believe that the crisis in Ukraine should have a negative impact on our relations with Russia. It does mean, though, that we have to look very seriously about the way in which countries make their decision and are entitled to make their decision," she said.

Ahead of the talks, Ashton told reporters she believed the bloc could work with Yanukovych on Kiev's concerns, voiced since the Eastern European country backpedaled on signing the Association Agreement.

"We are very concerned when we look at some of the things that are being said, and my purpose in talking to President Yanukovych was to discover what these short-term economic issues are that have prevented him from signing," Ashton said.

"I feel that we can work with him to resolve those. Some of them can be done through the support of the European Union, others through financial institutions, some of them through the private sector. All of them are possible."

Stefan Fule, European commissioner for enlargement and European neighborhood policy, said a day earlier on Twitter that efforts were being halted amid growing doubts that any deal could be done with Kiev.

Ukraine, a key transit region for Russian gas going to Western Europe, desperately needs a cash injection.

Azarov last week told a government meeting that Ukraine was still open to signing the European integration deal, if the European Union would agree to provide financial assistance to Ukraine of around 20 billion euros ($27.5 billion).

Future ties

Some in Europe have accused Moscow of using strong-arm tactics to try to influence Ukraine's course, but Russia denies that charge.

The tumult in Ukraine goes to the heart of its future ties with Russia and the rest of Europe.

Ukraine is split between pro-European regions in the west and a more Russia-oriented east.

The protests have unfolded since November 21, when Yanukovych changed his stance on the EU trade pact, which had been years in the making.

The demonstrators say an EU agreement would open borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion.
 

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