WASHINGTON, December 3 (RIA Novosti) – US Secretary of State John Kerry plans to skip a scheduled trip to Ukraine and instead travel to neighboring Moldova to show support for the small ex-Soviet republic’s decision to seek closer integration with the European Union, a path Kiev declined to pursue last week.
“We wanted to send a very strong signal of support for those countries that have moved forward with the EU because of what it means to their commitment to reform,” a senior US State Department official told reporters Monday evening.
Kerry had been expected to visit Kiev shortly after the Vilnius summit, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych sparked a wave of protests at home when he unexpectedly put the brakes on a trade deal with the EU last month, saying the country’s economy would suffer and pledging instead to focus on strengthening ties with Moscow.
The State Department official told reporters that had Ukraine signed agreements at an EU summit in Vilnius last week, “it would have been a tougher decision” whether Kerry should attend an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe summit in Kiev this week.
“But since that didn’t happen, we’re going where the European decisions were made,” the official said.
Moldova and another former Soviet republic, Georgia, signed agreements at the Vilnius summit that put the two countries on a path to stronger economic ties with Europe amid a wider EU push to integrate Eastern European and Southern Caucasus nations formerly ruled from Moscow.
“Moldova has come under some pressure from its big neighbor,” The New York Times quoted an unnamed State Department official as saying. “So among the things that we’re working on with the EU as we support Moldova moving forward is helping the Moldovan wine industry find new markets. The European Union has already reduced or dropped all of its tariffs on Moldovan wine.”
Ahead of the signing of the landmark agreement between Chisinau and the EU, Russia banned Moldovan wine and brandy imports in September, citing quality concerns.
Russia previously banned Moldovan wine imports in 2006, when the country’s products accounted for about 60 percent of the Russian market. That embargo was lifted in late 2007, and at the time of this year’s ban Moldovan products accounted for about 10 percent of all wine products sold in Russia, with $60 million in sales last year.
Amid ongoing unrest on the streets of Kiev, Yanukovych said Monday that Ukraine would resume discussions with the EU about an association agreement and possible trade deals.