Ukraine has suspended negotiations with the European Union on a landmark trade association agreement that Brussels had hoped would be signed next week.
The announcement came hours after Ukraine’s parliament voted to prevent jailed opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from travelling to Germany for medical treatment. The Tymoshenko case had been a major sticking point in relations between the EU and Ukraine, with Brussels making her release from jail a pre-condition before signing the agreement.
A decree posted on the Ukrainian government’s website said it was suspending the “process of preparation” for the agreement “with the aim of adopting measures to ensure national (economic) security”. The decision, it said, was motivated by a need to bolster economic ties with Russia.
Russia had been putting pressure on Kiev to abandon the deal with the EU, hoping instead to attract Ukraine into a customs union with it and other former Soviet states. Today Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich proposed a trilateral trade commission made up of Ukraine, the EU and Russia.
Hours earlier in parliament, members of Yanukovich’s party voted against granting his political rival Tymoshenko leave from prison to receive treatment from reported chronic back pain. She is serving a seven-year sentence for abuse of power over an energy deal with Russia but the European Commission, as well as Tymoshenko’s supporters at home, believe her conviction was politically motivated. Members of opposition parties shouted “shame” after the vote. Those from Tymoshenko’s ‘Fatherland’ party wore white T-shirts bearing the slogan Freedom to Ukraine, while members of boxer-turned-politician Vladimir Klitschko’s UDAR party wore red T-shirts that read Ukraine is Europe.