KIEV, December 14 (RIA Novosti) – Ukraine appeared to be on the brink of signing economic agreements next week that may well spell the end of a deal that would bring Kiev closer to Europe, following announcements by the country’s premier that it was ready for a deal with Moscow.
Prime Minister Nikolai Azarov said his government had resolved its outstanding issues with Moscow and would sign a range of economic deals with Russia on Monday in order to salvage economic relations with its neighbor.
That follows a dramatic volte face by Ukraine last month, when it ditched a proposed economic accession agreement with the European Union.
“We understood that signing this agreement [with the EU] would mean bankrupting us,” he told a pro-government, anti-EU demonstration in Kiev Saturday.
“We need to restore trade with the Russian Federation. And, at last, after long talks we have agreed on the removal of all disagreements with Russia. On Monday, we will complete these talks and…we will sign a range of agreements that will give our businesses work,” he said.
“When we took the decision to suspend association, we were thinking about you,” he told the demonstrators.
Azarov said the EU had insisted on unacceptable conditions to strike a deal with Brussels, including the introduction of gay marriage and laws protecting sexual minorities.
"The opposition leaders are telling fables when they say that we only have to sign the [association] agreement [with the EU] to start traveling to Europe visa-free the next day. Nothing of the sort. We have yet to comply with a whole set of preconditions: we have to legalize same-sex marriages, we have to adopt legislation on equality of sexual minorities, and so on. Is our society ready for this?" Azarov said.
The BBC on Thursday cited EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as telling reporters President Viktor Yanukovych had assured her that his aim was to eventually sign agreements with the EU.
A Ukrainian news report, citing the minutes of a government meeting, said the Ukrainian cabinet instructed the nation’s Economic Development Ministry last week to draw up a roadmap for Ukraine to join the Russian-led Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia.
That roadmap should be ready for a meeting of the Ukrainian-Russian intergovernmental commission due to take place next Tuesday, internet news site zn.ua reported, citing the minutes.
The significance and nature of the forthcoming deals with Russia was unclear Saturday. The Ukrainian government said just last week that it would return to association talks with the EU in the spring.
“We want to achieve stronger positions for Ukraine in talks with the EU and talks with Russia. Only then will they respect us,” Nikolai Azarov said on Saturday following a meeting with Yanukovych in Kiev.
Yanukovych, meanwhile, instructed Azarov on Saturday to make sure that society and in particular students, was informed about the government’s aims and “issues surrounding Ukraine’s European integration and the course of negotiations with the EU.”
Police in the Ukrainian capital Kiev were standing by on Saturday as rival groups of pro- and anti-European demonstrators prepared rallies for the weekend.
An anti-EU integration protest in support of President Yanukovych is underway Saturday on the city’s Independence Square, at which up to 200,000 will attend, its organizers claim.
Riot police units cleared barricades erected by protesters around the government buildings in the center of the city last week, but large numbers of protesters remain camped in the area.
Updated with Ashton's comment.