EU stands by 'family member' Ukraine

Herman Van Rompuy: "The future of Ukraine lies with Europe"

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EU leaders have voiced strong support for the protesters in Ukraine, calling the former Soviet state part of the "European family".

The EU summit chairman, Herman Van Rompuy, said the EU would sign a major association agreement with Ukraine "as soon as the country is ready".

He voiced regret that Ukraine had refused to sign the deal last month.

He also said the EU would have "frank" talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin about Ukraine next month.

"We won't avoid the problem, we will speak openly about our concerns, about the pressure put not only on Ukraine but on other countries in the east of the EU and Europe," said Mr Van Rompuy, who is president of the European Council.

He insisted that closer EU-Ukraine ties were a matter for the long term, and "we can't let it be compromised by short-term calculations and outside pressure".

Closer Russia ties

On Tuesday Russia announced that it would give Ukraine a discount of almost a third on Russian gas and would buy $15bn-worth (£9.2bn; 10.9bn euros) of Ukrainian government bonds. The deal came after talks between Mr Putin and Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych.

Ukraine's economic difficulties

  • Before news of Russia's offer to buy $15bn worth of bonds, Ukraine faced an external funding gap of $15bn-17bn in 2014
  • Negotiations for an IMF loan have long been stalled
  • Ukraine's foreign exchange reserves dipped to less than $19bn in November
  • Trade volumes in goods with the EU and Russia are similar

In recent weeks, during huge anti-government protests in Ukraine's capital Kiev, the EU has accused Russia of putting unacceptable economic pressure on Ukraine.

President Yanukovych admitted his decision had been influenced by that pressure.

President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, the country that has steered EU business for the past six months, said "Europe is open for Ukrainian people but not necessarily for this government - that's the message".

"The crisis in Ukraine was brought about by the very government of Ukraine," she said.

In a section on Ukraine the EU summit conclusions said the EU "emphasises the right of all sovereign states to make their own foreign policy decisions without undue external pressure".

Both Mr Van Rompuy and the European Commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, pointed to the many EU flags waved by protesters in Kiev as proof of their commitment to EU values.

Mr Van Rompuy praised the pro-EU Ukrainians sporting "the European flag, and its stars of hope, without a hint of cynicism". "That should make us reflect in our countries," he added, hinting at widespread Euroscepticism in EU member states.

"When we see European flags in the streets of Ukraine in a very cold temperature we can't resist saying it's part of the European family," Mr Barroso said.

Ukraine opposition rally in Kiev, 17 Dec 13 After the eurozone crisis some EU leaders took heart from the pro-EU spirit on the streets of Kiev

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