David Cameron has joined other EU leaders in signing an agreement with Ukraine which aligns the new administration in Kiev more firmly with Europe.
Former president Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Association Agreement with the EU last November triggered the protests which led to his overthrow. Interim prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk travelled to Brussels to sign political provisions of the agreement yesterday, with the EU committed to finalising the economic elements soon.
The move follows the EU’s decision to expand its blacklist of Russian officials and politicians subject to travel bans and asset freezes by 12 names to reach a total of 31, in retaliation for Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
The upper house of the Russian parliament approved the absorption of Crimea into the Russian Federation on Thursday following last weekend’s referendum, in which residents of the Black Sea peninsula overwhelmingly backed a breakaway from Ukraine.
The move, approved yesterday by the Duma in Moscow, was completed last night with the signature of President Vladimir Putin.
Speaking in Brussels after talks which stretched past midnight, Mr Cameron said the EU had sent a “clear, strong and consistent message” to Moscow about its “unacceptable” military occupation and annexation of the strategically important peninsula, home to the Russian navy’s Black Sea fleet.
As well as extending sanctions on key members of the Putin administration, the 28 leaders also agreed to task the European Commission with drawing up a set of “wide-ranging” measures targeting Russia’s economy which could be put into effect if Moscow escalates the crisis further.
European Council president Herman van Rompuy said the agreement “recognises the aspirations of the people of Ukraine to live in a country governed by values, by democracy and the rule of law, where all citizens have a stake in national prosperity. And the popular yearning for a decent life as a nation, for a European way of life.”
He added: “It shows our steadfast support for the course the people of Ukraine have courageously pursued.”
The EU is ready to help restore economic stability to Ukraine and lift custom duties on its exports to bring forward the trade benefits expected when the agreement is signed in full.
“All this will help Ukraine on its path of economic and social reform,” he said. “It is not an easy road, certainly not in this time of turmoil and tensions. But along this road the Association Agreement can serve as a compass.”
Mr Cameron welcomed the decision to extend sanctions: “We are sending a clear, strong and consistent message... It has been hard work. But we’ve made some real progress.
“I said we need to expand the list of people who are subject to travel bans and asset freezes and we’ve done that. I’ve said we needed some specific measures in respect of what has happened in Crimea, which is unacceptable, and we’ve agreed that.
“And I also said it was important to send a very clear message that if there’s further destabilisation in Ukraine, then there should be further wide-ranging measures taken and we’ve actually agreed tonight that we will task the European Commission to draw up those possible measures.”
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