Russia says EU criticism over Ukraine shift inappropriate

Reuters
A Ukrainian man stands in protest in front of gunmen in unmarked uniforms as they stand guard in Balaklava, on the outskirts of Sevastopol, Ukraine, Saturday, March 1, 2014. An emblem on one of the vehicles and their number plates identify them as belonging to the Russian military. Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of sending new troops into Crimea, a strategic Russia-speaking region that hosts a major Russian navy base. The Kremlin hasn’t responded to the accusations, but Russian lawmakers urged Putin to act to protect Russians in Crimea. (AP Photo/Andrew Lubimov)
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MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin's spokesman hit back at the European Union on Tuesday, saying it was wrong to criticize Russia over Ukraine's decision to back away from a trade deal with the EU and draw closer to Moscow.

"In this case it is inappropriate to speak of any kind of pressure," Interfax news agency quoted Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying in Russia's first public response to a strongly worded statement from EU leaders on Monday.

The remarks reflected tension between Russia and the EU over the shift by Ukraine, which abruptly halted preparations to sign up for the trade pact with the EU at a summit in Vilnius on Friday and said it would cultivate closer trade ties with Moscow.

Ukraine's decision followed months of Russian warnings that Moscow could impose punitive trade measures on its neighbor and hints that it could cut natural gas shipments.

In a statement on Monday, the EU's two most senior officials said they "strongly disapprove of the Russian position and actions in this respect."

Peskov said Putin had repeatedly stated Russia's position that it would welcome any decision by Ukraine, Interfax reported.

Russia wants Ukraine to bring into a Customs Union with other former Soviet republics. Moscow has also accused the EU of putting pressure on Kiev.

(Reporting by Jason Bush, Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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