President: CIS Trade Pact Not Aimed At EU

KIEV, Ukraine -- President Viktor Yanukovych said Saturday a free trade agreement Ukraine recently signed with Russia and other CIS countries was not aimed against its European integration, adding the integration will continue.

Viktor Yanukovych (R) and Mykola Azarov.

By making the statement, Yanukovych joined Prime Minister Mykola Azarov who had a day earlier insisted the government plans to sign a similar free trade agreement with the European Union.

Both responded to criticism from across political spectrum in Ukraine that the Russia free trade agreement may be de-facto reflecting a turnaround in Ukraine’s foreign policy away from Europe.

“Ukraine and other CIS counties have been working on this agreement for a long time,” Yanukovych said while on a visit to Cuba, the presidential press service reported.

“But this [agreement] does not call for hindering issues of Ukraine’s European integration,” Yanukovych said.

“The issues we take care of today do not contain a message of being friends against somebody.”

Ukraine signed the free trade agreement with Russia on Tuesday, a day after EU leaders had postponed a meeting with Yanukovych in Brussels, citing concerns with democracy in Ukraine.

The EU leaders expressed concerns over the trial of opposition politicians in Ukraine, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who was recently sentenced to seven years in prison for negotiating a controversial natural gas deal with Russia.

Former president Viktor Yushchenko, who pursued a decisively pro-Western course while in office in 2005-2009, said the free trade agreement with Russia underscored a turnaround in the country’s foreign policy away from seeking integration with Europe.

Azarov on Thursday praised the agreement by suggesting Ukraine has become part of an alternative free trade area covering 260 million people, including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus and other countries.

But he also said his government will continue talks with the EU in order to sign the free trade agreement before the end of the year and get access to markers covering 500 million people.

Ukraine has been expecting the free trade deal with Russia and other CIS countries will help to boost economic growth at 2 extra percentage points in 2012, earning Ukraine an extra 9.5 billion hryvnias next year.

Azarov earlier admitted the free trade agreement with Russia has certain restrictions by excluding sugar, oil and gas from the deal indefinitely.

This shows that Ukraine has failed to persuade Russia to lift the restrictions that had been in place for at least 15 years.

Source: Ukrainian Journal