MOSCOW – A Ukraine-EU free trade deal would pose a “big threat” to Russia’s economy, President Vladimir Putin has said.
He said Russia could be flooded with European goods virtually without tariffs because of an existing free-trade regime between Kiev and Moscow.
Kiev last week put on hold the planned signing of the deal, prompting the EU to accuse Moscow of pressuring Ukraine.
The move triggered mass pro-EU protests in Ukraine. But Ukraine’s leader said he wanted better terms in the deal.
“As soon as we reach a level that is comfortable for us, when it meets our interests, when we agree on normal terms; then we will talk about signing,” President Viktor Yanukovych told Ukraine’s TV channels.
“When this will happen –– soon or not so soon –– time will tell. I would like that time to come as soon as possible,” he added.
The demonstrators have pledged to continue their rallies until at least the end of an EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, on November 29, where Ukraine had originally planned to sign the free trade and association agreement.
Protesters say Ukraine’s future is with the EU, not Russia
Speaking during a visit to Italy, President Putin said Russia’s economy would be hit if European goods –– seen by Russian analysts as good-quality and relatively cheap –– were allowed to transit through Ukraine tariff-free. He said Russia’s agriculture, car and aviation industries would suffer as a result and there could be a jump in unemployment.
“We are not ready to open our gates to European goods.” Mr Putin urged EU officials to refrain from “sharp words” on the issue. Referring to them as “our friends in Brussels”, he said: “Do we have to choke entire sectors
of our economy for them to like us?” Yesterday European Council president Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president
Jose Manuel Barroso said they strongly disapproved of Russia’s “position and actions”. But Putin denies pressuring Ukraine, accusing instead the EU of “blackmailing” Ukraine to sign the treaties.
Ukraine’s Prime Minister Mykola Azarov had earlier acknowledged that Russia had suggested delaying signing the treaty to conduct negotiations between Kiev, Moscow and the EU. He said President Yanukovych would still attend the Vilnius gathering to discuss the possible three-way consultations, and that talks would be in the best interests of Ukraine.
“We absolutely do not want to be a battlefield between the EU and Russia. We want to have good relations with both the EU and Russia.” (BBC)