Ukraine says membership in EU depends on aid

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych says his country needs economic and financial support from the European Union before Kyiv can sign a political and free trade deal with the bloc.

Yanukovych told a summit of European leaders Friday that any deal would depend on a joint program of economic assistance to Ukraine.

Ukraine refused to initial an association agreement with the EU Friday, although Georgia and Moldova did sign intent to join the 28-nation bloc.

The agreements were initialed during the final day of a two-day summit of EU member states in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.

The summit was expected to mark the signing of a historic agreement to expand a free trade zone between the EU and Ukraine. But Yanukovych suspended that deal last week in favor of increasing ties with Russia.

That decision has sparked mass protests in Ukraine over the past week by pro-EU demonstrators urging Ukraine to enter into the EU trade agreement. The protests continued Friday in Kyiv.

French President Francois Hollande said Friday in Vilnius that the partnership offer remains open if Ukrainians decide they want it.

EU leaders have accused Russia of exerting political and economic pressure on Ukraine to delay the signing of the political and trade agreement. Russia denies doing so.

Last Sunday, tens of thousands of pro-Europe demonstrators gathered in one of the largest protests since the Orange Revolution nine years ago.

Jailed Ukrainian opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is on a hunger strike, hoping to force the government to sign the trade agreement.

Part of the EU pact requires legislation freeing the former prime minister. Ms. Tymoshenko, one of the leaders of the Orange Revolution, was jailed in 2011 and is serving a seven-year prison term on charges of abuse of office. The EU has called her trial politically motivated.


(Vilnius summit family photo by The Council of the European Union)