MOSCOW, September 20 (RIA Novosti) – Political opponents of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych reportedly said Friday that they were declaring an “armistice” with him before a summit at which the ex-Soviet nation hopes to sign a long-awaited deal on closer integration with the European Union.
“We have a temporary armistice,” Arseny Yatseniuk, who heads the Batkivschina (Fatherland) party, told the president at a forum in the southern Ukrainian port of Yalta, the Gazeta.ua news site reported.
Yatseniuk also called on Yanukovych to fulfill all of the prerequisites for the European Union Association Agreement, a landmark deal that Ukraine is expected to clinch during the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in late November.
The Ukrainian opposition has fiercely criticized Yanukovych for what they call a political jailing of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. She is currently serving a seven-year sentence for exceeding her authority in signing a gas purchase contract with Russia in 2009.
The EU Association Agreement, aimed at establishing political association and economic integration between the EU and Ukraine, is expected to replace the 1998 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement as a basis for bilateral relations. The new deal was initiated in March 2012 in Brussels after five years of negotiations.
On Wednesday, Yanukovych’s government approved the deal’s draft, moving the country one step closer to its signing.
The deal has long irked Russia, which has been increasing pressure on Kiev to join its Moscow-led Customs Union, a move that would – in effect – keep Ukraine under Russia’s sphere of influence. Although Ukraine has observer status in that bloc, it has made it clear it does not plan to take on full membership.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that Moscow respects Ukraine’s right to choose its priorities and partners, including Kiev’s choice between closer economic cooperation with Moscow or European integration.
But in mid-August, Russian presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev warned that the EU deal would be “suicidal” for Ukraine because it would trigger a permanent tightening of customs procedures for Ukrainian goods entering Russia.
Russia and Ukraine have had a series of politically driven commercial spats since the fall of the Soviet Union.