MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday signed a decree suspending Russia’s free-trade agreement with Ukraine as of January 1, the same day Kiev is set to enter a similar trade deal with Brussels.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking in Brussels, admitted Russia’s retaliatory move would cause “damage” to his country’s economy but said he was “ready to pay the price” and press on with efforts to join a European Union free trade zone.
Putin’s decree orders a halt to the 2011 Russian-Ukrainian agreement “due to exceptional circumstances which impact the interests and economic security of the Russian Federation”, according to the official document posted online.
“These measures are meant to protect Russia’s economic interests,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists, citing a lack of protection for the Russian market once Kiev’s free trade agreement with the EU goes into effect.
Relations between Moscow and Kiev plummeted after Ukraine’s pro-Russia president was ousted in 2014 and replaced by the pro-Western Poroshenko, in a year that also saw Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the start of fighting between government troops and pro-Russia rebels in east Ukraine.
Moscow has repeatedly expressed concern that Ukraine’s free trade agreement with Brussels may flood its market with European goods and months of three-way talks with the EU to smooth things over have yielded no results.
“Unfortunately, no legally binding agreement has been reached with Russia” during the talks, said Peskov.
Poroshenko said Putin’s decision to suspend their treaty was unfortunate.
“But we are ready to pay this price for our freedom and our European choice,” he told reporters in Brussels, flanked by EU president Donald Tusk and European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
“Our position is firm and clear. From the 1st of January the DCFTA (Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement) will be introduced in full between Ukraine and the EU,” he said.