The Ukrainian government said Thursday that it will suspend preparations for a landmark trade deal with the European Union (EU) to avoid straining ties with its eastern partners and Russia.
"Ukraine suspended the process until we find a way to stop the decline in industrial production as a result of a fall in exports to the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)," Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Boyko told reporters after a cabinet meeting.8
Ukraine has decided to halt the deal to be signed at a summit next week in Lithuania to protect its "national security" and will fully analyze potential impact on Ukraine's economic ties with CIS members, particularly Russia, the government said in a statement.
Kiev would "renew active dialogue" with Russia and other members of the Moscow-led Customs Union and CIS, the statement added.
The government move came on the heels of the parliament's rejection of a series of bills that would have satisfied the EU by allowing former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko out of prison to travel to Germany for medical treatment.
Tymoshenko's imprisonment, viewed by some countries as an example of "selective justice," has become a key stumbling block in Ukraine's bid to join the EU.
The 28-member bloc has been calling for Tymoshenko's release as a precondition for signing an association agreement and a free trade pact with Kiev at the Eastern Partnership Summit slated for Nov. 28-29 in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius.
The EU demand has irked President Viktor Yanukovych who narrowly defeated Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential election.
However, Yanukovych, who was on a visit to Austria, said Ukraine will further work toward European integration, without giving further details.
Kiev proposed the establishment of a special tripartite committee to assess the impact of the planned free trade accord with the EU on its economy and settle trade issues between Ukraine, Russia and the EU.
Launched in March 2007, the Ukraine-EU association deal is aimed at creating a framework for cooperation between the two sides, which is part of the EU's Eastern Partnership initiative designed to draw former Soviet states closer to the EU.
Kiev declared intentions to sign the association agreement in September 2011. Russia has threatened to impose trade restrictions should Ukraine seal the EU deal.