With Crimea lost to Russia, Ukraine takes step towards West
The European Union and Ukraine signed a landmark political cooperation accord on Friday, committing to the same deal former president Viktor Yanukovich rejected last November, a decision that led to his overthrow.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, EU presidents Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso, and the leaders of the bloc’s 28 nations signed the core chapters of the Association Agreement during an EU summit in Brussels.
Soon afterwards, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed legislation completing the process of absorbing Crimea into Russia, defying Western leaders who say the Black Sea peninsula remains part of Ukraine.
The deal commits Ukraine and the EU to closer political and economic cooperation, although its more substantial parts concerning free trade will be signed only after Ukraine has held a presidential election on May 25.
Van Rompuy, the European Council president, said the agreement would bring Ukraine and its 46 million people closer to the heart of Europe and a “European way of life”.
“(This) recognises the aspirations of the people of Ukraine to live in a country governed by values, by democracy and the rule of law, where all citizens have a stake in national prosperity,” he said.
Two sets of the documents were passed around the table for the EU’s leaders and Yatseniuk to sign in a solemn atmosphere. Van Rompuy and Yatseniuk then shook hands and exchanged the documents to applause, witnesses said.
Yanukovich turned his back on signing the EU agreement last November in favour of closer ties with Moscow, triggering months of street protests that eventually led to his flight from the country. Soon afterwards, Russian forces occupied Crimea, a Russian-majority region in the far southeast of the country, drawing outrage and sanctions from the United States and EU.
Yatseniuk urged European leaders to move decisively to contain Putin with economic pressure or risk the conflict - the most bitter East-West confrontation since the Cold war - spilling elsewhere into Europe.
“The best way to contain Russia is to impose real economic leverage on them,” he told reporters after the signing ceremony.
“I strongly believe ... the EU will speak in one single strong voice, defending the territorial integrity of Ukraine and protecting the EU itself because God knows what is the final destination, is it Ukraine or is it EU?”