E.U. Tightens Ties With Ukraine, But Denies It Membership

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BRUSSELS — The European Union pledged to tighten economic and political ties to Ukraine, while refusing to put the crisis-wracked ex-Soviet republic on a path to join the bloc.

President Sarkozy, representing the E.U., made the offer to President Yushchenko of Ukraine, now locked in a power struggle with his own prime minister that may determine whether Ukraine embraces Western democracies or falls under Russia’s sway. E.U. leaders said the outreach is designed to help create a western anchor for the country of 46 million people in the wake of Russia’s efforts to recover regional influence that evaporated after the Cold War.

“It was the maximum we could offer, but I think it was a substantial step,” Ms. Sarkozy told a press conference after hosting an E.U.-Ukraine summit in Paris yesterday. Mr. Yushchenko said the E.U.’s “message is full of hope and holds much promise.”

Russia’s invasion of Georgia last month shattered Europe’s security arrangements, forcing the E.U. to recalibrate ties with Russia and step up economic support for countries once in the Soviet hinterland. The E.U. will start talks that may lead to visa-free travel for Ukrainians to Europe. The E.U. also decided on the symbolic label “Association Agreement” for the trade and cooperation pact that is in the works.

Negotiations on the free-trade part of the pact, under way since February, won’t be wrapped up until the middle of 2009 at the earliest. Mr. Yushchenko said it will be “probably the latter half of 2009” before the pact is signed.

Two-way trade reached $48 billion in 2007, making the E.U. Ukraine’s top trading partner. European companies also have the biggest stake in foreign investment in Ukraine, which totaled $29.5 billion in 2007, according to the European Commission.

Ukraine sought to wriggle free of Russian influence in the 2004 “Orange Revolution” that installed Mr. Yushchenko as president with the goal of joining the E.U. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Still, the country is split roughly equally into a predominantly Ukrainian population in the center and west and Russian speakers to the east and in the Crimea, where Russia has leased port facilities for its Black Sea fleet until 2017. Ukraine may face early elections after Mr. Yushchenko’s party walked out of a coalition with Prime Minister Timoshenko last week, accusing Ms. Timoshenko of showing too little sympathy for Georgia after the Russian invasion.

The splits in Ukraine are echoed by divisions in the 27-nation E.U. over enlargement, with France and Germany arguing that the bloc is overstretched after taking in 12 mostly eastern European countries since 2004.

While the E.U. declined to offer Ukraine a “membership perspective,” Mr. Sarkozy said yesterday’s declaration is “the first time that the European Union has pronounced itself so clearly” on Ukraine’s European orientation.


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