BRUSSELS (Reuters) — Divisions emerged in
the European Union's policy towards Ukraine on Monday as the Dutch
foreign minister slapped down a senior EU official for announcing on
Twitter that he had suspended work on a trade agreement with Kiev.
EU foreign ministers arriving for talks on the EU's relations with
Ukraine and Russia said the door remained open for Ukraine to seal a
far-reaching trade and political agreement with Brussels despite
Kiev's last-minute decision in November to pull back from signing
Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans sharply criticized EU
enlargement chief Stefan Fuele, the official in charge of
negotiations with Ukraine, who announced on Twitter on Sunday that
talks with Ukraine were on hold because Kiev had failed to give a
clear commitment to sign the trade deal.
"I think making policy on the basis of a Twitter notice by Mr Fuele
is perhaps not the best way of approaching this issue," he told
reporters. "There was no reason from a Dutch point of view to
"I believe the best signal we can give Ukraine is simply that the
door is still open," he said.
Fuele's decision reflected growing frustration among EU officials at
what they see as the inconsistent position taken by President Viktor
Yanukovich, who sometimes appears to be veering towards Brussels and
at others towards Moscow.
Yanukovich's decision to abandon the EU deal last month in favor of
closer ties with Russia sparked weeks of mass protests in Kiev.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt accused Yanukovich of "double
"Sometimes he says ... he wants to sign it in the near future. The
other day he said he was going to fire those who negotiated the
agreement," he said. "If there's a clear message from Kiev, we are
ready to sign tomorrow."
STRAINED EU-RUSSIAN RELATIONS
Ukraine sent first deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov to Brussels
for talks last week on reviving the pact following reports that
Ukraine had asked the EU for 20 billion euros ($27 billion) in aid
to offset the cost of signing the deal.
The EU held out the prospect of increased EU aid and help with
negotiating an International Monetary Fund loan if Ukraine gave a
firm commitment to sign the EU accord, but Ukraine has not replied,
Fuele said on Sunday.
A Kremlin aide made clear on Monday that Russia was ready to extend
a credit to Ukraine to help Kiev cope with its economic problems and
keep the country in Moscow's orbit.
EU foreign ministers were set to hold talks later with Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and diplomats said they would try to
reassure him that an EU-Ukraine deal would not harm Russia.
Bildt accused Russia on Monday of launching a propaganda campaign
"based on misinformation and sometimes outright lies against the
(EU-Ukraine) agreement ... It is both a propaganda war and economic
pressure that they exert against Ukraine."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said Ukraine had strained
EU-Russia relations. "But it doesn't have to be seen as a zero-sum
game. A more prosperous Ukraine is in the interests of Russians," he