Yanukovych Still Wants EU Accord
A Eurasianet partner post from RFE/RL
The EU's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius has concluded with vows to continue working toward Ukraine's future signing of association and free-trade agreements with the bloc.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said Kyiv wants to sign a pact "in the nearest future" despite not doing so during the two-day summit.
A final summit declaration said all participants in the Vilnius summit "take note of the unprecedented public support for Ukraine's political association and economic integration with the EU."
Meanwhile, in Kyiv, protests continued over European integration.
Tens of thousands of pro-European demonstrators, many of them students, gathered in Independence Square, hub of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests, to show their support for Ukraine's European path.
A rival anti-EU protest attended mainly by Yanukovych supporters, many of them reportedly bused in from the Yanukovych power base in eastern Ukraine, was held nearby in the European Square.
Speaking to the press at the summit in Vilnius's close, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said: "We know how much the Ukrainian people feel European, how much they care about Europe, how much they aspire to be recognized as members of the democratic community of nations of Europe."
"And we will of course now pursue our conversations with our Ukrainian partners. knowing well that we should always respect Ukraine's sovereign decisions," Barroso said.
But Barroso rejected Kyiv's suggestion Moscow participate in EU-Kyiv talks over preparing Ukraine economically for an Association Agreement.
He said, "We don't need a trilateral agreement for a bilateral deal."
Western leaders have expressed impatience with Moscow after Kyiv refused to sign the pact because of what they see as Russian interference.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on November 29 in remarks clearly aimed at Moscow that "we should overcome the mentality 'either us or them.' The Cold War is over."
French President Francois Hollande said Ukraine was heavily pressured, "notably through gas," by Moscow not to sign association and free-trade accords with the EU.
Georgia, Moldova Commit
Also on November 29, the EU responded favorably to Belarus's interest in negotiating a future visa-facilitation agreement.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy told journalists: "We welcome the announcement by Belarus that it is ready to start negotiations on a visa facilitation agreement with the European Union and such an agreement will be to the benefit of all its citizens."
RFE/RL's correspondent in Vilnius says those talks could begin as early as December.
Earlier in the day, the EU and officials of Georgia and Moldova initialed the last pages of their Association Agreements, setting the stage for the two former Soviet states to sign formal EU Association Agreements in the future.
A signed Association Agreement offers the signatory the possibility of closer economic integration with the bloc, provided the candidate country adjusts its legal, judicial, and economic systems to fit certain EU norms.
Separately, the EU and Azerbaijan signed a visa-facilitation accord that will speed up and simplify the process for granting Azerbaijani citizens visas to enter EU member states.
And the EU and Armenia agreed in a joint statement that Yerevan will not initial an Association Agreement with Brussels because it has taken on "new international commitments" that prevent it from doing so.
Those commitments include Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian's previously announced decision to join the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan instead.
The Vilnius summit was attended by almost all of the leaders of the 28 EU member states, including leading powers Germany, France, and Britain.
The EU launched the Eastern Partnership Program with six former Soviet republics -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- in 2009.
Reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Vilnius. With additional reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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