Ukraine sets November deadline for EU deal

Ukraine insisted Tuesday that a formal agreement covering energy, trade, judicial and human rights norms tying the ex-Communist country to the EU will be signed by November "at the latest."

Six days from a summit of leaders from Kiev and the European Union, Ukraine ambassador to the EU Kostiantyn Yelisieiev insisted that Kiev only wants to "go West."

His government does not want to sign up to a putative ‘customs union’ trading bloc with Russia and one-time Soviet allies, Yelisieiev insisted.

He said the EU was "hesitant" with Brussels officials angered by the prison sentence meted out to former Ukrainian premier Yulia Tymoshenko.

"But we made our choice -- Ukraine's decision is very clear, we want to go to the West."

Yelisieiev maintained that a so-called ‘Association Agreement,’ after five years of negotiations, "could be even more important" than the Free Trade Agreements being negotiated with Japan and others.

"A kind of FTA-Plus," he said.

However, he also warned that Ukraine – a country of 46 million people – would not accept "pre-conditions" from Brussels, and drew a parallel with plans to speed towards a far-reaching trading accord between Europe and the United States.

"Could you imagine if the EU said to the US 'you must abolish the death penalty'?"

He warned that it was pointless for Brussels leaders to "treat Ukraine as a future accession country -- which is not the case."

Nonetheless, he stressed that next Monday’s summit is not a deadline of itself, rejecting "speculation" that if no deal is forthcoming that Kiev would seek to tie up an alternative accord with Moscow.

"We are not playing with this as a toy," he said, citing public desire for a visa-free travel regime in and out of the EU for Ukrainians. "There is no Plan B -- only Plan A."

Instead, a November meeting between the EU and eastern European neighbours is the target.

The Russian customs union "will become redundant" if the EU signs, he said.

"The EU understands what's at stake -- if (Russian President Vladimir) Putin gets Ukraine, he gets Azerbaijan, Georgia, the others… and the Soviet Union is revived.

"Whereas without Ukraine, the customs union doesn't have a future," he underlined.

Yelisieiev reckoned both sides will sign the "seminal" agreement "definitely in November -- and not later than November."

This, he added, in reference to the eurozone debt crisis, would "show Europe as an ideal is still alive."

Ukraine has been at odds with the EU since Tymochenko was jailed last year, and also faces a $7.0-billion bill from Russia for gas it did not receive under the terms of a contract negotiated by her during her time in office.

"We don't recognise this debt," he said of the dispute over the bill.

Ukraine is a key transit point for mainly Russian gas into the EU bloc of half a billion consumers that must import most of its energy needs.