EU, Ukraine Trade Accusations At Summit

KIEV, Ukraine -- A top EU official accused Ukraine of dragging its feet on reforms at a summit in Kiev on Friday, while the ex-Soviet republic's leader complained about a delay in a promised EU-Ukraine accord.

Ukraine's President Viktor Yushchenko (C), Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt (L) and European Commission Chairman Jose Manuel Barroso (R) pose after the Ukraine-EU summit in Kiev. A top EU official accused Ukraine of dragging its feet on reforms at a summit in Kiev on Friday, while the ex-Soviet republic's leader complained about a delay in a promised EU-Ukraine accord.

"It seems to us quite often that the promises of reforms are only partially respected," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, in comments translated into Ukrainian.

Barroso urged the divided Ukrainian leadership to "ensure the country's political and economic stability" in the run-up to presidential elections scheduled to be held in January 2010.

"The EU wishes to support Ukraine and we're doing a lot in concrete terms," Barroso said at a press conference held after the talks.

But he added: "In the end, the responsibility for the reform in Ukraine is not for the EU, but for the Ukrainians themselves."

Barroso and other EU officials also advised Ukraine's leaders to make every effort to gain access to aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) by carrying out economic reforms.

Kiev received a 16.4 billion-dollar loan from the IMF in November 2008, but the fund has refused to hand over the third instalment because of Ukraine's failure to maintain fiscal discipline.

The European Union then froze a 600 million-euro (904 million-dollar) loan to Ukraine.

"The IMF programme must get back on track," Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, whose country holds the current EU presidency, said at the press conference.

Meanwhile Yushchenko revealed his bitterness at the postponement of the signing of an association agreement designed to develop links between Ukraine and the EU, placing some of the blame on Brussels.

"The EU must understand that we all have the responsibility of making the association agreement into an example for all the countries in the region on their way towards European integration," Yushchenko said.

He placed blame for Ukraine's failure to meet its obligations to the EU on the country's government, which is led by his archrival, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, who is running against him in the January 17 presidential vote.

The association agreement, which was to have been concluded this year, had been intended to showed Europe's willingness to boost ties with the ex-Soviet republic, though it stopped short of promising eventual EU membership.

Yushchenko was the darling of the West five years ago after he swept into power after the pro-Western "Orange Revolution," but since then his reputation has suffered amid endless political infighting and gas disputes with Russia.

Barroso warned that European consumers should not suffer a repeat of last winter's Russian-Ukrainian gas conflict, which caused a long interruption of Russian gas supplies to more than a dozen countries in January.

"We should not be affected by any problem that we had at the beginning of the year," Barroso said.

A quarter of the EU's gas comes from Russia, 80 percent of which is transported via Ukraine.

So far this winter, a new gas crisis has been averted as Ukraine has managed to pay its gas bills to Moscow, despite being short of cash due to the world economic crisis.

Ukraine's state gas firm Naftogaz said on Friday that it had paid for all the Russian gas delivered in November, a statement that was confirmed by Russian state-controlled energy giant Gazprom.

Source: AFP

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