MOSCOW, November 29 (RIA Novosti) – European Union leaders said Friday that a deal to let Ukraine boost economic ties with Europe is still on offer after the former Soviet nation backed away from signing at a landmark summit.
“The door is still open, we are ready to sign,” European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters at the end of the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.
Kiev’s surprise decision last week to halt preparations for association agreements with the EU caused dismay among European officials, and has sparked mass street demonstrations inside Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s position did not escape criticism from EU leaders at the summit.
Ukraine’s leadership “chose a way going nowhere,” said Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite, whose country currently holds the rotating European presidency, at a joint news conference with Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Barroso.
EU leaders stressed that they would not engage in horse-trading with Kiev, and that the conditions for the association agreements were not negotiable.
But the head of the European Parliament told reporters that the mandate of its monitoring mission to Ukraine, which has led negotiations on the agreements, will be extended. The mission is led by former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former European Parliament President Pat Cox.
Russia has been repeatedly condemned by the EU for putting economic pressure on Ukraine to stop it moving toward Europe.
EU leaders rejected an offer Wednesday from Russian President Vladimir Putin for three-way negotiations over trade ties.
“We don’t need trilateral agreement for a bilateral deal,” said Barroso.
Yanukovych offered a glimmer of hope during the summit, when he told leaders that Ukraine was committed to European integration and intended to sign the agreements “in the near future.”
Unlike the European leaders, however, the Ukrainian president left Vilnius to return to Kiev without holding a press conference or talking to reporters.
Ukrainian officials say that serious economic damage has been inflicted on the country over the last year as trade turnover with Russia and other former Soviet states dropped 25 percent.
Russia says that it will introduce a harsh new customs regime with its smaller neighbor if the EU deal goes ahead.