EU issues tight deadline to Russia for ceasefire talks and release of prisoners

Trade deal with Ukraine prompts Russian warning of ‘grave consequences’

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko at a press conference during the European leaders’ summit in Brussels yesterday.  Photograph: EPA/Julien Warnand

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko at a press conference during the European leaders’ summit in Brussels yesterday. Photograph: EPA/Julien Warnand

 

EU leaders handed down a four-day deadline to Russia to release prisoners in Ukraine and enter talks with president Petro Poroshenko on a definitive ceasefire as they signed a deal to deepen trade ties with the country.

The trade pact comes little more than half a year after Ukraine’s pro-Moscow former president Viktor Yanukovich declined to sign the European agreement.

This resulted in the overthrow of Mr Yanukovich, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and Sevastopol, and a violent separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

European leaders also signed trade agreements with Georgia and Moldova, whose relations with Russia are also difficult.

In essence, the agreements with all three countries expand trade with the EU in return for reforms in areas such as economic and justice policy.

Trade deal

The deal with Ukraine comes at a pivotal time in the country’s crisis. Moscow’s objection to Ukraine’s alignment with the EU is one of the prime driving forces behind the upheaval in the country.

The trade deal prompted an immediate warning of “grave consequences” for Ukraine from Russian deputy foreign minister Grigory Karasin.

In Brussels to sign the deal, however, Mr Poroshenko said it demonstrated Ukraine’s “sovereign choice in favour of future membership of the EU”.

But many EU leaders are reluctant to move towards its full membership and they have stopped well short of saying they will eventually allow the country to join the union.

European Council president Herman Van Rompuy said only that the agreements with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova were “not the final stage” of their co-operation.

“This signing is an arrival point – after two decades of our relations growing stronger. But it is also a starting point, opening the most ambitious external relationship ever developed with the EU,” Mr Van Rompuy said.

In his own remarks to the EU leaders, Mr Poroshenko emphasised the loss of life in Ukraine even since a ceasefire took force.

He was expected, however, to extend the ceasefire after scheduled expiry last night.

“This decision will be taken by me when I return to Ukraine, I will have to conduct consultations with the minister of defence, the defence council,” he told reporters.

European demands

European leaders maintained pressure on Russian president Vladimir Putin, saying they stand ready to impose further sanctions on Russia “without delay” if it fails to comply with four key demands by Monday.

The EU leaders want the following:
lAgreement on a “verification mechanism” for the ceasefire and for effective border control, to be monitored by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe;
lReturn to Ukraine of border checkpoints at Izvarino, Dolzhanskiy and Krasnopartizansk;
l Release of hostages, among them several OSCE observers; and
lLaunch of substantial talks on the implementation of Mr Poroshekno’s peace plan.

The EU leaders called on all parties to genuinely commit to the implementation of the peace plan, saying they urged Russia “to actively use its influence over the illegally armed groups and to stop the flow of weapons and militants across the border”.