Ukraine Needs Not Choose Between EU And Ex-Soviet Republics - Moscow

ODESSA, Ukraine -- Russia's foreign minister said on Saturday that Ukraine's integration with the European Union could not hamper its attempts to build closer ties with former Soviet republics.

Sergei Lavrov

Sergei Lavrov's statement came amid speculation that Russia dominating the CIS, an alliance of former Soviet republics, opposed Ukraine's efforts to consolidate ties with Europe and NATO.

Ukraine has been a traditionally close partner for Russia.

"We don't see any conflict in the aspiration for closer integration with Europe and simultaneous integration with former Soviet republics. Contradiction here is nothing but artificial," Lavrov said during his visit to a meeting of an international cooperation subcommittee of the Russian-Ukrainian interstate commission.

Situated between Russia and the EU, Ukraine introduced a visa-free regime for EU citizens from 2005.

Lavrov also said trade between Ukraine and Russia would hopefully grow substantially by the end of the year.

"Our trade has increased by at least 70% in the first quarter, and I hope we will see impressive figures by the end of the year," he said, adding that business ties had to be further encouraged.

The Ukrainian government said bilateral trade had grown 73% to $12.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011 year-on-year.

In 2010, annual trade between the countries increased 1.6 times to $42 billion, beating the pre-crisis figures. Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has said he expected bilateral trade to top $50 billion this year.

Source: RIA Novosti

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