End ‘sharp words’ over Ukraine, Putin tells EU leaders
Kiev – Russia’s President on Tuesday called for European leaders to end their criticism over Ukraine’s decision to delay a key EU pact, as thousands rallied in Kiev in a third day of protests.
Vladimir Putin said a free trade deal between the European Union and Ukraine that was controversially put on hold last week would have been a “major threat” to the Russian economy.
Kiev admitted on Tuesday Moscow had asked it to delay signing the pact, while President Viktor Yanukovych said he would consider signing under new terms.
The Ukrainian government suspended talks last week on the political and free trade accord, seen as a key step towards EU membership, which its Soviet-era master Russia had vehemently opposed.
The shock decision sparked the largest protests to hit the ex-Soviet country since the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004, with demonstrators taking to the streets in the capital Kiev and western Ukraine.
The EU has accused Russia of pressuring its smaller neighbour not to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius this week.
EU President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso have said they “strongly disapprove” of Russia’s actions, prompting Putin to urge European leaders to tone down their criticism.
“I ask our friends in Brussels, my personal good friends in the European Commission, to hold back on the sharp words,” Putin said during a visit to Italy.
“Do we have to choke entire sectors of our economy for them to like us?”