* Long queues of trains at Russia-Ukraine border
* Russia is averse to Ukraine's desire to forge closer ties
By Vladimir Soldatkin and Pavel Polityuk
MOSCOW/KIEV, Aug 15 It began with chocolates but
now Moscow has tightened checks on all imports from Ukraine in
what some say is an attempt to dissuade its neighbour from
turning towards Europe and away from its former Soviet ally.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has pressed his idea of
forming an economic union to reunite part of the Soviet Union,
but Ukraine has resisted becoming a member of the Eurasian
Union, preferring to keep the possibility of EU membership open.
After visiting Ukraine last month, Putin left empty handed,
failing to persuade President Viktor Yanukovich to rethink his
European move. Shortly afterwards, Russia barred confectionery
imports from Ukrainian firm Roshen on health concerns.
On Wednesday, Russian border guards started new, and
time-consuming checks on all Ukrainian cargos, whether it be
ferrous metals, heavy machinery or chemicals.
A spokesman for Russia Railways said almost 1,000 rail cars
were stuck at the border between the two countries.
"As customs servicemen started to carry out more careful
checks of cargoes coming from Ukraine, a number of rail cars
have amassed near Russian border stations," he said, adding
Russian trains bound for Ukraine were also stuck in the
Ukrainian producers, such as the country's largest
steelmaker Metinvest, said they had started to feel
the impact and that the tighter border checks were already
hurting their operations.
A spokesman for Russia's Federal Customs Service declined to
comment, while his Ukrainian counterpart said the situation at
the border was "normal".
Ukrainian politicians said the motivation behind the new
rules was obvious, part of a pattern in deteriorating ties
between the two neighbours over the country's orientation, trade
and differences over gas prices.
"The ban on the imports of Ukrainian goods into Russia is
nothing else but pressure by Russia in order to force Ukraine to
join the Customs Union," Arseny Yatsenyuk, leader of opposition
party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland), said in a statement.
It is not the first time the Kremlin has tried to pressure
Ukraine by using trade.
Moscow has often hinted that Ukraine's demands for Russia to
lower what it called "exorbitant" gas prices would be met if it
joined the Eurasian Union.
The two countries have waged two "gas wars" in the winters
of 2006 and 2009, with Moscow halting deliveries not only to
Ukraine but to the rest of Europe, forcing many in the European
Union to try to find alternative sources of energy.
Kiev's planned agreements on free trade and political
association with the European Union, which it hopes to sign in
November, will rule out the possibility of a trade deal with the
Russia-led trade bloc.
"It is widely known that the deals with Ukraine, including
the one on gas, rest purely on Kiev's attitude towards Europe,"
a government source in Moscow said.