The EU and Russia remain divided over Ukraine, despite efforts by foreign ministers to smooth over the cracks at a Brussels meeting described by Luxembourg’s representative as “horribly nice”.
Criticising what he called “external intervention” in Kyiv’s affairs, Moscow’s chief diplomat said there was no reason for Westerners to try to woo the former Soviet republic.
“Urging Ukrainians to make a choice in favour of Europe is like suggesting that Russia doesn’t want to cooperate with Europe but instead wants to pull Ukraine and other countries of the Eastern Partnership somewhere else. It’s absolutely not the case,” Sergey Lavrov said.
The pro-EU, anti-government protests in Ukraine have been interpreted as symbolising a clash of values along East-West lines, reminiscent of the Cold War.
But for the EU’s head of diplomacy, there is no damaging tug-of-war.
“I don’t think Russia and EU relations are getting worse. I think Russia and EU are strategic partners and we need to work through all the issues that, when you talk about strategic partnership, exist – including how we operate in our own neighbourhood,” Catherine Ashton told a news conference.
The EU’s foreign policy chief also said that an EU agreement on closer ties with Ukraine would be of benefit to Russia as well.
Sergey Lavrov was reminded that the EU was not offering Ukraine additional money.
All European ministers insisted the door remained open to such an accord, despite November’s U-turn by President Yanukovych over a planned deal.
As Brussels struggles to put up a united front, there was criticism of Sunday’s tweet by the Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele who said talks were on hold because Kyiv had failed to give a clear commitment to sign the association agreement.
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych is due for talks in Moscow on Tuesday. Russia is likely to remind Ukraine about the benefits of a closer union between the two countries. Moscow and Kyiv both say a deal is likely both on a loan and lower prices for Russian gas.