The European Union will offer to deepen economic and political ties with Ukraine, while continuing to deny the ex-Soviet republic the prospect of future EU membership.
EU foreign ministers will agree January 21 in Brussels to start talks on a „comprehensive” accord, with goals such as dismantling import and customs duties, ending investment restrictions and extending EU antitrust and food-safety standards to Ukraine, a draft EU document said. The 27-nation EU intends to „create a new climate for economic relations” and offer Ukraine links that „go above and beyond existing commitments,” said the draft, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. The EU also dangled the prospect of more financial aid. The EU is trying to strengthen democratic forces in Ukraine led by President Viktor Yushchenko, who is battling for closer relations with the West against the more pro-Russian prime minister, Viktor Yanukovych.
The EU would help finance the upgrade of Ukraine's energy pipelines, seeking to lessen the impact of Russian President Vladimir Putin's moves to exert more control over oil and gas deliveries to Europe. In a replay of last year's Ukraine oil embargo, Russia this month briefly shut an oil pipeline to western Europe in a pricing dispute with Belarus. Putin has also tightened his grip on Russian oil production. A nod to Ukraine's „European choice and aspirations” will probably be made in a separate non-binding declaration since the vast majority of EU governments won't commit to future membership, an EU official said. Sweden and Poland are pleading for more encouraging language, the official said. The EU will also nudge Ukraine toward European standards for industrial products, public contracting and patents, the document said. Help in building up democratic institutions and, at a later date, visa-free travel to Europe will also be on offer. (Bloomberg)