Putin Visit Aimed Against Brussels Ties

KIEV, Ukraine -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will come to Ukraine later this month to try to dissuade Kiev against closer economic and political ties with Brussels in favor of joining a Moscow-led alliance.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Putin is expected to visit Ukraine between April 11 and April 15, Kommersant daily reported, citing a Russian source. A Ukrainian official said the visit will probably take place on April 12.

The visit appears to be scheduled only days after Ukraine is due to hold an important round of talks in Brussels over free trade and political association agreements with the EU.

“The consequences for Ukraine of singing the [EU] free trade agreement will dominate the visit,” the Russian source said, according to Kommersant.

The developments underscore diplomatic efforts underway as Moscow seeks to assert and strengthen its influence in the region by trying to engage Kiev economically and politically.

This comes as relations between Kiev and Moscow worsened over the past three months amid growing disagreements over trade and important economic issues, such as natural gas prices.

President Viktor Yanukovych, who was elected in February 2010 on a pro-Russian platform, met his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev 11 times in the course of 10 months last year. The two are yet to hold their first meeting this year.

Putin warned Ukraine last month that prohibitive trade barriers will be erected against Ukrainian goods if Kiev joins the free trade with the EU.

His Ukrainian counterpart, Mykola Azarov, immediately responded that Kiev will “persist” with the EU talks and will seek to sign the free trade accord before the end of the year.

Putin argued that Ukraine would benefit economically from joining the Moscow-led trade bloc, known as the Customs Union, which includes Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.

During his visit to Kiev, Putin will seek to spell out economic benefits that Ukraine might obtain after joining the Customs Union.

Source: Ukrainian Journal