KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine will “persistently” continue talks with the European Union over free trade despite a warning from Moscow that such accord may trigger prohibitive trade barriers imposed by Russia.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, at a meeting with Martin Schultz, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament, on Thursday said Ukraine hopes to sign the accord by year-end.
“We are persistently holding the talks with European Commission officials in order to establish the free trade,” Azarov said. “We are persistent people, so we work consistently and seek to achieve the desired results.”
The comment comes a day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has threatened with the prohibitive trade barriers against Ukrainian goods if Ukraine reaches the accord with the EU.
On the other hand, Putin said, Ukraine would benefit economically by joining the trade bloc with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Putin’s remarks signal that Moscow has been seeking to discourage Ukraine politically from negotiating the free trade accord with the EU. Any progress in talks between Ukraine and the EU may further worsen relations between Kiev and Moscow.
The developments come amid cooling relations between Ukraine and Russia over the past three months battered by problems in talks over trade and natural gas.
The cooling has been reflected in the lack of meetings between President Viktor Yanukovych and his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, who had never yet met this year.
This is a sharp contrast with the year of 2010 when Medvedev and Yanukovych have met 11 times in the course of 10 months between March 2010 and December 2010.
The EU-Ukraine free trade talks have stumbled over the past six months over issues like energy and agriculture, and Yanukovych had last month ordered the government must speed up the talks.
Yanukovych last month appointed First Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Kliuyev in charge of the Ukrainian team of negotiators, but Kliuyev’s first visit to Brussels on March 2 has failed to trigger any progress.
Deputy Economy Minister Valeriy Piatnytsky, who was in charge of the Ukrainian team before the Kliuyev appointment in February, said the agriculture sector is perhaps the most “painful” question in the talks.
But Azarov said: “We are not losing optimism.”