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Vladimir Putin accuses EU of blackmail over Ukraine free trade deal

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Vladimir Putin accuses EU of blackmail over Ukraine free trade deal
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Russia says EU efforts aimed at encouraging Ukraine to sign a free trade deal with Brussels amount to “blackmail.”

But a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Moscow had also pressured Kiev into rejecting closer ties.

She said: “It“s a disappointment but we continue to believe that the future for Ukraine is in a strong relationship with the European Union. When it comes to the pressure of Russia we have made it very clear that we strongly believe in the right of each country to freely define and choose what kind of relationships it wants to have.”

But Russian President Vladimir Putin accused EU officials of encouraging the Ukrainian opposition to protest against the government’s decision.

He said: “In essence we have heard threats from our European partners toward Ukraine up to and including promoting the holding of mass protests. This is pressure and this is blackmail.”

The Kremlin’s envoy to the EU said the 28-member bloc had only itself to blame.

Vladimir Chizhov said: “An analogy with a steam roller would be appropriate. The European Union was mostly giving orders to Ukraine: what it should do, which laws it should pass, which reforms to conduct, whom from where to release. The EU never offered Ukraine or any other member of the Eastern partnership a full membership. Now Ukraine can join the Customs union.”