Ukraine’s newly-elected president, Petro Poroshenko, Friday threw his country’s lot in with the European Union, signing a pact on economic integration that his predecessor had fatefully spurned in favor of closer ties with Russia.
At a summit in Brussels, Poroshenko and the prime ministers of two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova, signed so-called “Association Agreements” with the E.U. which regulate access to each other’s markets and which have in the past been preludes to full membership of the bloc.
The signing is a defining moment in the Ukrainian crisis, and in the whole post-Soviet development of eastern Europe. After intense political and economic pressure from an increasingly assertive Vladimir Putin, involving two military invasions and land grabs in the last six years, three more former Soviet republics have pinned their hopes on the E.U. in an attempt to escape from Moscow’s sphere of influence.
“This is an indication that free and independent states want to work with market economy and liberal democracy,” Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb said on his arrival at the summit.
They follow the path trodden 20 years ago by Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. Only two of Russia’s former satellites in Europe–Belarus and Armenia–have opted instead to join Vladimir Putin’s ‘Eurasian Union’ project.
In reaction, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Grigoriy Karasin warned of “grave consequences” for Ukraine, which still does more trade with the Eurasian Union countries than with E.U. ones.
The Ukrainian news agency Unian reported that Russia’s consumer protection agency Friday banned imports of dairy products from two more Ukrainian producers, the latest in a series of such moves. Exports of agricultural products to Russia, a mainstay of the Ukrainian economy, were down by 30% in the first five months of the year.
The signing comes at a crucial time in the conflict that has flared in eastern Ukraine in response to Kiev’s change of course. The conflict has already claimed over 400 lives and, earlier this week, the rebels shot down a Ukrainian army helicopter, killing all nine servicemen on board.
“Over the last months Ukraine paid the highest possible price to make its European dreams true,” Poroshenko said.
Despite Poroshenko’s urging, the E.U. again shied away from further sanctions on Russia Friday, but gave it until Monday to meet four demands to prove its commitment to peace.
They are: agreement on a mechanism under which the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe can monitor the ceasefire; the release of all OSCE hostages by pro-Russian rebels; the restoration of Ukrainian control over three key border crossings; and the start of “substantial negotiations” on implementing Poroshenko’s peace plan.
Against that backdrop, Bloomberg reported that a week-long ceasefire proclaimed by Poroshenko–but not observed fully by either side–would be extended by 72 hours.
Away from Brussels, meanwhile, Russian state-controlled oil company OAO Rosneft said it had signed a deal under which U.K. oil giant BP Plc (BP) will buy up to 88 million barrels of oil from Rosneft for at least $1.5 billion over the next five years. BP is Rosneft’s largest shareholder after the Russian state.