Ashton casts doubt on Yanukovych promises

12.12.13 @ 08:47

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has voiced doubt on the integrity of Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych after their second meeting in Ukraine.

  • Ashton in Kiev: 'I merely tell you that that's what he's been saying' (Photo: eeas.europa.eu)

Speaking to press in Kiev on Wednesday (11 December) she said the Ukrainian leader: "assured me when I met him that he does intend to sign the [EU] association agreement."

She noted, however: "I merely tell you that that's what he's been saying."

She added: "I have to accept that what the President says to me, is what he's saying to me, for me to carry back the message. But you know, it's always important to verify by seeing what happens next and we want to see what is said turned into what is done."

Ashton spoke following an attack by riot police on pro-EU protesters on Wednesday morning.

She also spoke after Ukrainian PM Mykola Azarov told media that Ukraine wants €20 billion in extra money to implement the EU pact.

She indicated the EU is unwilling to pay.

"This is not about bids for this country … This is not a decision about 'Oh here's x amount of money if only you'll sign.' We're not interested in that," Ashton said.

Her remarks come amid ongoing EU-Ukraine talks on reviving the treaty, however.

Ukrainian central bank and foreign ministry officials met with her staff in Brussels last week.

Ukraine's deputy PM, Serhiy Arbuzov, is also planning to come to the EU capital on Thursday.

At the same time, EU countries are in talks with international lenders - the European Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank - on potential Ukraine aid.

"If you ask them, they will deny it, but behind the scenes there is a lot of discussion going on along those lines," an EU source told the Reuters news agency.

Ashton declined to speak of sanctions if police violence continues.

But the US on Wednesday did not rule out punitive measures.

A US state department official, Jen Psaki, told reporters in Washington that the US still sees "an opening … to move toward European integration."

She added, however: "All policy options, including sanctions, are on the table in our view."

US sanctions would hurt Ukraine much less than EU travel bans or asset freezes on Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians.

Many of Ukraine's big men have business and personal assets in EU countries.

Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's richest man and a leading sponsor of Yanukovych's Party of the Regions, for one, owns steel plants in Bulgaria, Italy, and the UK, as well as a €160 million apartment in London.

Meanwhile, EU diplomats are watching Ukrainian TV to see which way the wind is blowing.

Akmhetov and other oligarchs, such as Ihor Kolomoyskyi, Victor Pinchuk and Dmitry Firtash, own TV stations which used to be loyal to Yanukovych.

They have been broadcasting continuous footage of protests and police violence in recent days.

But their intentions remain unclear.

An EU diplomat told this website the broadcasts might be an "insurance policy" to keep themselves off any future EU blacklists.

They might also be designed to help Yanukovych sign a rival pact with Russia, by prompting the EU and US to cut ties and allowing him to blame the West for his decision.

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