EU rebukes Russia on Ukraine trade
The European Commission has reprimanded Russia over its attempt to intimidate Ukraine on trade.
Its spokesman, John Clancy, said in a statement on Tuesday (20 August) that: "Any economic threat from Russia directed against Ukraine and linked with a possible signature of the association agreement with the EU is unacceptable."
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Citing Russia's commitments as a member of the World Trade Organisation, he added it is "essential that the talks with the EU on a free trade area will not interfere with Ukrainian plans to develop constructive relations with the Customs Union and the Eurasian economic area [two Russian-led trade blocs]."
The EU complaint comes after Russia imposed new customs checks on Ukrainian imports between 14 August and 20 August, causing a standstill in rail and road freight.
Ukraine's customs ministry on Tuesday noted that: "The Russian side [has] assured [us] that as of today, additional customs control procedures do not apply."
But there are signs the mini trade war is not over yet.
Kazakhstan, Russia's partner, along with Belarus, in the Customs Union, the same day halted Ukrainian poultry imports on phytosanitary grounds.
The developments come three months before Ukraine hopes to sign a political association and free trade pact with the EU.
The signature is not a done deal because of EU concerns on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's jailing of political opponents.
But the pact is seen by both EU and Ukrainian diplomats as a way to pull the former Soviet republic out of Russia's sphere of influence and to put it on the road to future EU membership.
For his part, German centre right MEP Elmar Brok, one of Yanukovych's toughest critics in terms of democratic standards, said on Tuesday: "The EU, as a concerned party in the conflict, has to act to defend Ukraine."
Brok's statement, issued together with Polish centre-right deputy Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, added: "It is not at all a trade dispute, but a very serious political conflict with a geopolitical background."
A senior advisor to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, earlier told press the trade blockade is designed to show Kiev what will happen if it takes the "suicidal" step of signing the EU agreement.
A Ukrainian trade federation said if Russia imposed the new checks permanently, it would cost its member companies €1.9 billion a year.
Tension in Ukrainian political circles increased this week due to a publication, by Ukrainian website Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, of a 10-page document it says is a Russian strategy paper on how to sabotage Ukraine's EU aspirations.
Its authenticity was lent weight by Volodymyr Ohryzko, a former Ukrainian foreign minister, who told the RFE/RFL news agency the paper proves "there is a systematic ideological, political, economic, and information war being waged against Ukraine."
The paper calls for Russian puppet organisations in Ukraine to counter pro-EU moves with a view to Kiev signing up to Russia's Customs Union by 2015.