World News

Ukraine leader wants quicker pace towards Europe

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s president, after a series of moves strengthening ties with Russia, sought to balance his foreign policy on Friday, saying preparations for an association agreement with the European Union had to be accelerated.

An association agreement, which includes a free trade pact, has been under discussion for several years between Brussels and Kiev.

Eyeing a summit meeting in mid-October, President Viktor Yanukovich said preparations had to be stepped up for signing an agreement.

“It is extremely necessary for us that the country sees prospects here. Since European integration remains one of the priority directions for our external policy, we have to map out effective measures today,” he told aides, according to Interfax news agency.

Yanukovich also said work had to be intensified to secure visa-free travel between Ukraine and the EU bloc.

Brussels agreed this was a realistic target for Ukraine “but we will still have to do a lot to get a visa-free regime,” Yanukovich said.

At present, EU citizens do not require a visa to travel to Ukraine. But Ukrainian citizens are required by Western Europe to have a visa and provide guarantees that they will not stay to work in the country they visit.

After coming to power in late February, Yanukovich made his first foreign trip to Brussels where he met top EU officials. He said then that taking Ukraine into the European mainstream remained his key foreign policy objective.

But he has since also moved quickly to improve poor relations with Russia with a series of steps including extending the Russian navy’s stay in a Ukrainian port until the middle of the century in exchange for cheaper gas.

Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Maria Golovnina