Ukraine's Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said Tuesday he did not want his country to become a “battlefield” between the European Union and Russia.
Azarov’s comments came as pro-Europe demonstrators continued protest against Kiev’s decision last Thursday to back out of signing a free trade deal with the EU. Instead, Kiev decided to revive talks with Russia, which had opposed the deal.
Azarov admitted Russia had asked Ukraine "to delay signing the treaty and to conduct negotiations" between Kiev, Moscow and the EU, the BBC reported. He said Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych would still attend the Nov. 28 and 29 EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, to discuss possible three-way talks.
"We absolutely do not want to be a battlefield between the EU and Russia. We want to have good relations with both the EU and Russia," Azarov told reporters.
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Kiev, meanwhile, would meet with Russia in December to “draw up a road-map for re-establishing our relations,” he said.
Russia, keen to maintain its influence over the former Soviet state, wants the Ukraine to join the Moscow-led Customs Union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan. It has threatened trade sanctions if Kiev signs the EU deal.
The EU has criticized Russia over its actions, while Moscow has accused the Europeans of “blackmailing” the Ukraine into signing the agreement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin dismissed the EU's criticism Tuesday.
"I would ask our friends in Brussels — my good personal friends in the European Commission — to refrain from harsh words," he said, during a joint news conference with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Putin said he was concerned the Russian marketplace would be flooded with goods from the EU, adding, "We are not ready to throw open our gates to European goods like that."
In response to pro-Europe demonstrations, Yanukovych said Monday the decision to suspend moves towards a trade pact with the EU had been difficult and he vowed to bring "European standards" to the country.
The protesters have drawn support from jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who announced Monday she was starting a hunger strike.
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