In his first meeting with EU leaders since violent anti-government protests began in Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin travelled to Brussels on Tuesday to deliver one clear message:
Russia’s offer to Ukraine of a $15 billion loan and gas price reductions still remains on the table, even if the new government is run by the opposition. But Putin also warned that Russia would closely monitor Ukraine’s economic policies to make sure it gets its money back.
Putin’s pledge came after Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and his cabinet resigned also on Tuesday, following weeks of demonstrations in Kiev and beyond.
‘Both the loan or any sort of reduction on gas prices whether on a monthly or quarterly basis are not based on our desire to support any particular government in Ukraine but to support the people of Ukraine because it is the people who suffer when the powers are being fought.’ said Russian president Vladimir Putin.
Since last November, thousands of Ukrainians have taken to the streets to protest the decision of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to favour closer ties with Moscow instead of signing a landmark pact with the European Union.
But despite being overshadowed by recent developments in Ukraine, the 32nd EU-Russia summit was set to focus on the Eastern Partnership, an EU initiative launched in 2009 with the aim of improving EU ties with eastern former Soviet countries.
In the two and a half hour meeting, Brussels and Moscow agreed to setup an expert group to discuss what economic impact potential free trade deals between the EU and its eastern partners would have on Russia.
‘Associations agreements, including free trade agreements between the European Union and partners like Moldova, Georgia are fully compatible with Russia’s existing trade arrengements with these countries. The trade agreements can interact constructively with the Customs Union as long as WTO rules are applied and free decision making is guaranteed.’ said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.
Putin was only in Brussels on Tuesday, after the EU decided to cancel a protocol dinner with the Russian President originally planned for Monday evening.