Little progress as Yanukovych meets EU leaders at Vilnius

President reiterates his preference for trilateral approach between Russia, the EU and Ukraine

Eugenia Tymoshenko, daughter of jailed Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, wearing a T-shirt with her mother’s photograph during an interview on the sidelines of an Eastern Partnership summit. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP Photo

Eugenia Tymoshenko, daughter of jailed Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko, wearing a T-shirt with her mother’s photograph during an interview on the sidelines of an Eastern Partnership summit. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP Photo

Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 01:00


in Vilnius


Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych flew to Lithuania yesterday to face EU leaders for the first time since his government halted negotiations on a political and trade agreement with the EU.

With Mr Yanukovych due to attend the opening dinner of the Eastern Partnership summit last night, there was little sign of progress at an earlier meeting between the president and the heads of the European Commission and European Council, during which Mr Yanukovych is understood to have reiterated his call earlier this week for more financial assistance for Ukraine.


Trilateral
During the hour-long meeting, both José Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy reaffirmed that the association agreement was still on the table, according to an EU diplomat, with the Ukrainian president reiterating his preference for a trilateral approach between Russia, the EU and Ukraine.

Speaking on her way into last night’s dinner, German chancellor Angela Merkel said she saw “no hope” of an agreement being signed at the two-day summit, but stressed the door was still open to Ukraine to seek a pact with the European Union. EU enlargement commissioner Stefan Füle took a tough line earlier in the day, warning that Ukraine’s decision risked the economic health and future of the economy. Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt tweeted that he did not “expect much” from Mr Yanukovych at the meeting.

Following six years of negotiations Ukraine unexpectedly announced last week it was halting discussions with the EU on an association agreement, and a connected trade accord, opting instead to pursue discussions with Russia.

Centre-piece
The signing of the association agreement with Ukraine had been billed as the centre-piece of the two-day summit on the EU’s eastern partnership policy – the bloc’s strategy for engagement with the group of six former Soviet countries to its east.

While Ukraine is the largest of the six countries in the group, the EU is expected to “initial” an association agreement with Moldova and Georgia today, with the aim of signing the agreements by September next year. However, both countries are facing pressure from Russia to join its planned Eurasian custom union. Belarus and Azerbaijan, which have been engaged in much more stilted discussions with Brussels, were both represented at Vilnius yesterday, with Azerbaijan expected to sign a visa agreement today.

The final member of the group, Armenia, announced its withdrawal from the EU association process in September, instead pledging its commitment to a Russian-led customs union.


Irish attendance
Ireland, along with Finland, was one of only two EU countries not represented at prime minister level at the summit, with Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald and Minister of State Paschal Donohoe attending. A Government spokesman said the Taoiseach was not in a position to attend “despite his best efforts”.

“Ireland remains, however, one of the most ardent supporters of partnership and the enlargement of the EU,” the spokesman said.

As protests continued in Kiev over the Ukrainian government’s decision to end negotiations with Europe, Mr Füle held talks with Ukrainian opposition leaders in Vilnius.

British prime minister David Cameron, who earlier this week called on the EU to implement tougher migration restrictions, was expected to raise the issue of immigration at last night’s dinner.