BRUSSELS: Ukraine’s new leader yesterday signed a landmark EU pact that drew immediate threats of retaliation by Russia in its standoff over the ex-Soviet country’s future with the West.
President Petro Poroshenko hailed the Association Agreement — a 1,200-page document defining the political and trade terms under which Kiev will slip from the Kremlin’s embrace — as a turning point for a country that staddles a geopolitical fault line between Europe and Russia.
The deal also bursts Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dream of enlisting Kiev in a Moscow-led alliance that could rival the European Union and Nato. The Kremlin immediately vowed to take “all the necessary measures” against Ukraine.
Yet the pact is just as unpopular in Russified eastern regions that mistrust the new Kiev leaders and are now witnessing a bloody separatist insurgency being waged on the streets of a dozen industrial cities and towns.
Ukraine’s military said five more soldiers died overnight in attacks by rebels who have failed to honour the terms of a temporary truce agreed by their own commanders.
The European Union yesterday sealed identical partnership pacts with Georgia and Moldova — two former Soviet nations with equally complex relations with Russia. Poroshenko said the deal offered Ukraine “an absolutely new perspective” and “the opportunity to modernise.”
“It is a historic day, the most important day since independence,” he declared.
The agreements were signed just hours after the rebels released four unarmed monitors from the Organisation and Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) they had abducted on May 26.
Another four European observers and their Ukrainian translator are still being held captive by the gunmen and Putin has personally urged the militias to secure their release.
The Kremlin chief denies exerting control over the fighters and is yet to address in public reports from Kiev and Washington of rocket launchers and even tanks crossing the Russian border into the conflict zone.
But Putin is also facing the threat of imminent economic sanctions should he fail to show that he is backing Poroshenko’s bid to end nearly two months of fighting that have claimed more than 440 lives.
EU leaders gave Russia until Monday to change policy on Ukraine or face the prospect of tougher sanctions.
The United Nations said on Friday that nearly 55,000 people have been forced from their homes by fighting and lack of access to basics such as electricity and running water. The European Union argues that the free trade deal will boost Ukraine’s exports to the 28-nation bloc by $1.35bn) a year and save the nation of 46 million roughly half that amount in revoked customs duties.