VILNIUS, November 29 (RIA Novosti) – Georgia and Moldova signed agreements with the European Union at a summit Friday as another ex-Soviet country, Ukraine, confirmed it would not go ahead with a similar deal.
The agreements with Georgia and Moldova, which are set to be ratified next year, put the two countries on a path to stronger economic ties with Europe amid a wider EU push to integrate Eastern European and Southern Caucasus nations formerly ruled from Moscow.
“The agreements initialed today are the most advanced of their type ever negotiated by the EU,” said European Commission President Jose Barroso during the signing ceremony, according to a copy of his speech.
“From now on, our economies and a growing number of sectors in our societies will be linked. We will increasingly work together.”
The Eastern Partnership summit in Lithuania began Thursday with EU heads of state and leaders from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova in attendance.
The event has been overshadowed by Kiev’s surprise announcement last week that it was halting preparations to sign the long-planned association agreements and was instead seeking to increase trade ties with Russia.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych offered a ray of hope to EU leaders at the summit over Ukraine’s European integration plans.
“I confirm Ukraine’s intentions to sign the association agreement soon,” he said at the summit’s plenary session, according to a transcript on the Ukrainian president’s website.
But he warned that Ukraine was suffering from severe economic problems and that it needed the EU to make concessions over a financial aid package for his country.
Ukraine’s announcement last week provoked dismay among EU officials, and has brought thousands of people onto the streets of Kiev and other Ukrainian cities in a series of ongoing protests.
In a video from a cocktail reception at the summit on Thursday evening, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seen chiding Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych over his failure to sign.
“We expected more,” she said in the video released by the Lithuanian president’s office.
Any residual hopes that Yanukovych could be persuaded to change his mind appeared to have been dashed.
“It’s over,” Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski told the Associated Press news agency Friday, when asked about the negotiations over Ukraine’s signing.
EU officials have repeatedly accused the Kremlin of threatening its smaller neighbor with punitive economic sanctions if it went ahead with the agreements.
Yanukovych appeared to acknowledge Russian pressure in the video released by Lithuania, where he is heard mentioning “big difficulties with Moscow.”
In the months leading up to the summit in Lithuania, Moscow warned Kiev that it would be subject to a harsh new customs regime if it signed, and also demanded prompt payments for huge natural gas bills.
President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly denied that Russia pressured Ukraine on the issue.
Updates with Yanukovych, Merkel and Barroso remarks and background.