Russia's Lavrov criticizes EU pressure on Ukraine

Reuters

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the European Union on Tuesday of putting "unforgivable pressure" on Ukraine to sign a free trade pact with the EU.

If Ukraine meets the EU's conditions to sign agreements this month on trade and other forms of cooperation, it would mark a historic shift for the former Soviet republic away from Russia and towards western Europe.

The EU and Ukraine fear Moscow could respond by launching a new "gas war" with Ukraine, which depends heavily on Russia for its energy supplies. Ukraine is also a transit country for Russian energy supplies to Europe.

"We are not putting anyone under pressure ... this is a sovereign choice for any state," Lavrov said of Ukraine's decision on whether to move closer to the EU.

"If you compare our, in my opinion, honorable and collegial position with that of some representatives from the European Union, then arguably unforgivable pressure is being applied from that side on the focus (ex-Soviet) states."

Lavrov was speaking after talks with the foreign minister of Belarus, which is part of a free-trade zone with Russia and Kazakhstan which Moscow wants Kiev to join.

He said Russia wanted it understood "in good time what the consequences (of signing the agreements with the EU) will be so nobody gets upset."

He did not spell out what those consequences might be but made clear Russia did not want its own competitiveness in trade hurt. Moscow has said Ukraine cannot be a member of both the free trade pact with the EU and the trading group with Russia and Belarus.

The main condition for the agreements between Ukraine and the EU is permission for jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to go to Germany for medical treatment. Ukrainian parliament was meeting on Tuesday to try to pass a law on this.

(Reporting by Steve Gutterman; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Douglas Busvine)

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