VILNIUS, November 22 (RIA Novosti) – A top aide to Lithuania’s president said Friday that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych admitted Kiev backed off this week from signing landmark trade deals with the EU under pressure from Russia.
Ukraine sent shockwaves through Europe on Thursday when it announced a halt to preparations for association agreements with the European Union, a move that would have weakened the former Soviet state’s economic ties with its neighbor Russia.
Jovita Neliupsiene, an advisor to the president of Lithuania, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, cited Yanukovych as saying his country acted in the face of economic intimidation from Moscow.
Yanukovych told Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite that Russia threatened to limit the import of Ukrainian goods, particularly from the eastern regions that constitute the Ukrainian president’s support base, Neliupsiene said.
Such a Russian move would have cost Ukraine heavy financial losses and caused the closure of companies where thousands of people work, Yanukovych said, according to Neliupsiene.
Kiev had been at the center of intensive diplomatic negotiations in the run-up to a summit in Vilnius next week when it was expected to sign ssociation agreements with the EU.
The Ukrainian Cabinet instead announced Thursday that it would seeker closer cooperation with Russia and a Moscow-led Customs Union trade bloc.
In recent weeks, the Kremlin has warned Kiev that it would be subject to a harsh new customs regime if it signed the EU agreements, and has also demanded prompt payments for huge natural gas bills.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told the Ukrainian parliament Friday that the government was forced by economic circumstances to renew commercial ties with Russia.
Earlier, Azarov said that his country had this year seen a 25 percent drop in trade volumes with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States, a loose alliance of former Soviet countries.
Russia has denied that it threatened Ukraine, and instead leveled similar charges at the EU.