Ukraine’s prime minister says the decision not to sign a landmark deal strengthening ties with the European Union was based on economics.
However, Mykola Azarov told parliament Friday that the move does not alter Ukraine’s strategy of EU integration.
Ukraine’s Cabinet said Thursday it was suspending preparations to sign the historic trade and cooperation agreement with the EU, after the country’s parliament earlier in the day refused to pass legislation that would free jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
The former prime minister’s release was a key EU condition for signing the Association Agreement with Ukraine.
Azarov said Thursday the suspension of the preparations for signing the pact was in the interests of “national security.”
The suspension order said Ukraine would resume an “active dialogue” with Belarus and Kazakhstan, members of a Russian-led customs union, and other former Soviet states with the goal of reviving trade and economic relations.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called the decision “a disappointment.”
Hundreds of people protested Thursday night in a central Kyiv square against the abrupt suspension of the historic new alliance with its Western neighbors.
Ukraine’s Cabinet suggested setting up a commission of Ukrainian, Russian and EU officials to discuss trade issues.
The agreement was to have been signed at next week’s EU Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Some members of Ukraine’s opposition said Wednesday that the Cabinet’s announcement was grounds to impeach President Viktor Yanukovych.
(Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov. Photo: nato.int)