EU leaders close the door on Yanukovych
20.12.13 @ 16:52
BRUSSELS - EU leaders ended 2013 with a show of support for Ukrainian "people," but indicated that they will wait for President Viktor Yanukovych to leave power before trying to revive an EU pact.
EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy led tributes to the pro-EU protesters, who have camped out in Kiev city centre for the past month.
He said after a summit in Brussels on Friday (20 December) that: "A lot has happened ... for instance with Iran, in the Middle East, in central Africa. But the most significant development for Europeans currently is the peaceful popular protest in Ukraine."
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso noted: "When we see those European flags in the streets of Ukraine in this very cold temperature, we cannot resist to say that they are indeed part of the European family."
A summit communique said the EU is still "ready to sign" an association and free trade pact with Ukraine for the sake of "Ukrainian people."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron repeated the line in their press briefings.
The Lithuanian President and outgoing EU chairman, Dalia Grybauskaite, spelled out what it means.
"The European Union is open to Ukrainian people, but not necessarily the current Ukrainian government - that's the message," she told press.
The message comes after Yanukovych said No to the EU pact shortly before meeting EU leaders in Vilnius last month. He later agreed a bailout with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, but details of the deal are under wraps.
A senior EU source told press on Thursday that EU leaders gave up on Yanukovych already in Vilnius.
The source recalled that after meeting him at the Lithuanian event, Cameron said the Ukrainian leader is "from a different civilisation. He is not a partner for Europe at all."
The EU source described Yanukovych as "deeply criminalised."
The source noted that, according to "intelligence" circulated by "a Nato country," the Putin-Yanukovych deal contains "a personal guarantee of security for Yanukovych's family and his family fortune" no matter what happens in Ukrainian elections in 2015.
The source added that if Yanukovych uses force to disperse protests then EU sanctions are likely to follow.
EU leaders also criticised Russia's interference in EU-Ukraine relations.
The summit communique spoke of "undue external pressure" after Putin threatened to bankrupt Ukraine if it signed the EU accord.
Merkel and Van Rompuy said the EU will sign similar pacts with Georgia and Moldova by August in an accelerated procedure, which is designed to limit the scope for Russian sabotage.
They both noted that Russia is Europe's "strategic partner."
But Van Rompuy promised to tackle the Ukrainian issue in an "open and frank manner" with Putin at an EU-Russia summit in January. Merkel noted: "We have to get out of this either/or logic with Russia. The EU-Russia summit will discuss this."
Putin is used to batting away EU complaints.
But bad feeling on Ukraine and on Russia's recent crackdown on civil liberties threatens to spoil his plans for the winter Olympics in Sochi, on Russia's Black Sea coast, in February.
The German and French Presidents, Grybauskaite and one EU commissioner have said they will not go to the event.
For his part, Putin on Friday freed oligarch-turned-reformer Mikhail Khodorkovksy after 10 years in jail. He also promised to free the Pussy Riot singers and Greenpeace activists.
His Khodorkovsky decree said he did it for "the principles of humanity." But it is widely seen as pre-Olympic PR.
Merkel said it shows "it was important not to forget him [Khodorkovksy] and to bring it up all the time." She added that Sochi is a "window of opportunity" to extract other concessions from Moscow.
Van Rompuy declined to give Putin credit for his amnesties.
"I will not comment on the releases in Russia," he said on Friday, when asked by press.