Georgia and Moldova signed similar deals, holding out the prospect
of deep economic integration and unfettered access to the EU's 500
million citizens, but alarming Moscow which is concerned about
losing influence over former Soviet republics.
All three countries have made clear their ultimate goal is
membership of the bloc but Brussels, under pressure from voters
weary of further EU expansion, has made no promise it will allow
Ukraine's former pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovich turned his
back on signing the EU agreement last November in favour of closer
ties with Moscow, prompting months of street protests that
eventually led to his fleeing the country.
Soon afterwards, Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region, drawing
outrage and sanctions from the United States and EU, and pro-Russian
separatists began an uprising in eastern Ukraine that has claimed
hundreds of lives.
"Over the last months, Ukraine paid the highest possible price to
make her European dreams come true," Ukrainian President Petro
Poroshenko told EU leaders at a signing ceremony in Brussels,
calling it the most important day for his country since independence
from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991.
Symbolically, he signed the agreement with the same pen that had
been prepared for Yanukovich to sign the document last year.
Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin immediately said
the signing would have "grave consequences" for Ukraine, Interfax
news agency reported.
Sergei Glazyev, a senior adviser to Russian President Vladimir
Putin, described Ukraine on Thursday as a fascist regime, accusing
EU leaders of creating a "Nazi Frankenstein".
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted on Friday by
Interfax as saying Glazyev’s comments "do not reflect the official
point of view".
Still, Peskov said Russia would take measures to protect its economy
if it is negatively affected by the agreements, RIA news agency
"As soon as the implementation starts, there can be talk of some
protective measures," he said. "Everything needed to protect our
economy will be undertaken."
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said there was nothing
in the agreements that would harm Russia in any way.
Poroshenko urged the EU to reward Ukraine for its sacrifices by
promising the country would be eligible for membership of the EU
once it was ready. The pledge would "cost the EU nothing but would
mean the world to my country", he said.
Van Rompuy said the agreements with the three countries were "not
the final stage of our cooperation", but this fell short of the
prospect of ultimate EU membership.
Moldovan Prime Minister Iurie Leanca has also set his sights on EU
membership, saying on Thursday that he hoped his country would apply
to join in the second half of 2015.
[to top of second column]
Russia, which fought a five-day war with Georgia in 2008, has met
previous attempts by its neighbours to move closer to the EU with
trade reprisals and EU officials fear the same thing could happen
EU officials say that, in diplomatic talks, Russia has
threatened to withdraw the duty-free treatment that Ukraine
currently benefits from as a member of the Commonwealth of
Independent States (CIS) free trade pact.
One senior EU official called the Russian threat "deeply shocking"
while another said such a move would violate the CIS agreement and
World Trade Organisation rules.
If Russia imposed customs duties, it would put at risk some of
Ukraine's exports, which mainly consist of base metals, grains,
machinery, equipment and processed food. Ukraine sends 24 percent of
its exports to Russia, worth $15 billion a year.
Moscow fears that an influx of EU products into Ukraine will lead
Kiev to dump its own production in Russia. It is also concerned that
Ukraine may re-export EU products into Russia, avoiding duties that
Russia imposes to protect its own output.
Last year, Russia briefly imposed onerous customs checks at the
Ukraine border and responded to Moldova's overtures to Brussels by
cutting off imports of Moldovan wine.
Russian energy giant Gazprom cut off gas supplies to Kiev last week
after Ukraine failed to pay its gas debts.
The EU and Ukraine had already signed parts of the agreement dealing
with political cooperation in March, but the more significant
economic chapters were left to be signed now, after presidential
The EU exported 23.9 billion euros ($33 billion) of goods to Ukraine
in 2013 and imported 13.8 billion worth, EU data shows.
As part of the deal, the EU will insist that Ukraine meet its
standards on human rights and democracy, fights corruption,
strengthens the rule of law and reforms its economy.
(Additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak in Brussels, Gabriela
Baczynska in Moscow; editing by David Stamp)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.