US Senator Criticizes Russian ‘Pressure’ on ex-Soviet States

WASHINGTON, November 15 (RIA Novosti) – Russia is playing a “zero-sum game” by pressuring Ukraine and other former Soviet republics seeking closer integration with the European Union (EU) by taking swipes at its neighbors’ economies, a US lawmaker has said.

“We’ve seen a ban on wine imports from Moldova, chocolate from Ukraine, fertilizer from Belarus, and the list just goes on and on and on,” US Sen. Chris Murphy, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ Subcommittee on European Affairs, told a hearing this week.

Russia has repeatedly flexed its trade muscle in the region in recent months, twice unexpectedly changing customs procedures, which has caused major backups of freight trucks carrying Ukrainian exports at the border.

Moscow also banned chocolate imports from a major Ukrainian confectioner in July, saying the goods failed sanitary tests.

Meanwhile, Ukraine halted Russian gas imports earlier this month, citing high gas prices, just as energy giant Gazprom said that Ukraine had failed to pay an outstanding gas bill of $1.3 billion. Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller said Friday that Ukraine had resumed natural gas supplies from Russia “in accordance with the current contract.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Murphy accused Russia of “below-the-belt” tactics and Moscow should not dictate the course of former Soviet states that are members of the EU Eastern Partnership program.

“Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Belarus should be free to chart their own future,” Murphy said. “Our message should be that the door to Euro-Atlantic institutions is open, and if you’re prepared to meet reasonable conditions, we will support you.”

The hearing came two weeks ahead of the EU Eastern Partnership Summit in Lithuania, at which Ukraine has been hoping to sign the association agreement with the EU.

Political analysts have tiled the trade disputes between the two countries to Russia’s ongoing efforts to dissuade Ukraine from signing a trade deal with the European Union.

The EU deal is under threat, however, as Ukrainian lawmakers delay over measures to allow jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to leave the country for medical treatment, which European officials have insisted on as a condition of the agreement.

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