Divisions have emerged in the European Union’s policy towards Ukraine after the Dutch foreign minister slapped down a senior EU official for announcing on Twitter that he had suspended work on a trade agreement with Kiev.
EU foreign ministers arriving for talks on the EU’s relations with Ukraine and Russia said on Monday that the door was still open for Ukraine to seal a far-reaching trade and political agreement with Brussels despite Kiev’s last-minute decision in November to pull back from signing the deal.
Dutch Foreign Minister, Frans Timmermans, sharply criticised EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele, the official in charge of negotiations with Ukraine, who announced on Twitter on Sunday that talks with Ukraine were on hold because Kiev had failed to give a clear commitment to sign the trade deal.
“I think making policy on the basis of a Twitter notice by Mr Fuele is perhaps not the best way of approaching this issue,” he told reporters. “There was no reason from a Dutch point of view to suspend talks.”
“I believe the best signal we can give Ukraine is simply that the door is still open,” he said.
Fuele’s decision reflected growing frustration among EU officials at what they see as the inconsistent position taken by President Viktor Yanukovich, who sometimes appears to be veering towards Brussels and at others towards Moscow.
Yanukovich’s decision to abandon the EU deal last month in favour of closer ties with Russia sparked weeks of mass protests in Kiev.
Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt accused Yanukovich of “double speak”.
“Sometimes he says … he wants to sign it in the near future. The other day he said he was going to fire those who negotiated the agreement,” he said. “If there’s a clear message from Kiev, we are ready to sign tomorrow.”
Ukraine sent first deputy prime minister Serhiy Arbuzov to Brussels for talks last week on reviving the pact following reports that Ukraine had asked the EU for $27 billion in aid to offset the cost of signing the deal.
The EU held out the prospect of increased EU aid and help with negotiating an International Monetary Fund loan if Ukraine gave a firm commitment to sign the EU accord, but Ukraine has not replied, Fuele said on Sunday.
A Kremlin aide made clear on Monday that Russia was ready to extend a credit to Ukraine to help Kiev cope with its economic problems and keep the country in Moscow’s orbit.
EU foreign ministers were set to hold talks later with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and diplomats said they would try to reassure him that an EU-Ukraine deal would not harm Russia. [Al Jazeera]