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Ukraine braced for more protests as Russia pact looms

Dec. 6, 2013 at 8:21 PM   |   Comments

KIEV, Ukraine, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- Ukraine's pro-EU campaigners promised more protests as the presidents of Ukraine and Russia met Friday in the southern Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, talks that were previously unannounced.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin met to discuss the drafting of a strategic partnership agreement, Ukrainian Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov told news media, ITAR-Tass and Voice of Russia reported.

Divisions have deepened within Ukrainian society over the future of Ukraine's association with the European Union on one side and ties with Russia and its former Soviet republics on the other.

Groups of Ukraine's Orthodox Christians are reported backing Yanukovych over closer ties with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States -- former republics of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in 1991.

Analysts say Yanukovych is being told by Russian negotiators to balance what Ukraine will lose in trade and political preferences if it joins the EU against promised monetary and political support as a future EU member. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the decision to shelve EU association talks was made in Ukraine.

"They realized that at the moment, they're not ready for this," Medvedev was quoted by Russian news agency RIA Novosti as saying. "In all probability, they decided at least to postpone the signing. We just focused on the problems [of the deal], telling them [Ukraine] what they might be."

Ukraine suspended EU association talks last month amid widespread protests that continue but will gain momentum as details of Friday's talks in Sochi emerge, opposition leaders warned.

Azarov in comments to media indicated Yanukovych's meeting with Putin wasn't a surprise as suggested in the media.

"On his way back from China the Ukrainian president made a stopover in Sochi, where he had a previously agreed meeting with his Russian counterpart," a Ukrainian government statement quoted Azarov as saying.

"The issue on the agenda was drafting a major strategic partnership agreement with Russia, complemented with a road map eliminating disputes over trading and economic issues," Azarov said, ITAR-Tass reported.

"Ukraine and Russia are determined to fully eliminate the contradictions that have piled up in bilateral relations over the past three and a half years, including controversies over the gas supply contract and the disruption of industrial cooperation," Azarov said. "This sort of work is now under way."

Russia and Ukraine are also scheduled to hold a meeting in Moscow of an inter-state commission that will look into strengthening ties.

Opposition critics say the reports will strengthen their resolve to widen the protests.

The process of Ukraine's integration in the EU has turned into a cornerstone problem of Russian-Ukrainian relations in recent months, Voice of Russia said. Moscow has said that Ukraine will lose trade preferences with Russia if it signs up to an EU association.

Putin told Ukraine in October Russia would take measures to "protect its market." Ukrainian membership of a Russia-sponsored customs union that includes Belarus and Kazakhstan is also at risk, Ukraine was told by Russian negotiators.

Russia insists Ukraine isn't under any pressure to abandon the EU bid, but Medvedev said Friday, "We are not indifferent to what is happening there," Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

"It's a country that's very close to us, people living there are very close to us, and in addition, Ukraine is for us a very important trade and economic partner, like we are for [them]," Medvedev said.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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