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Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych flies in to Brussels for a summit Monday seen as "a defining moment" in a long-delayed bid to seal a political and trade pact with the EU anchoring the ex-Soviet state closer to the West.
"This summit takes place at an important moment in our relations," said European Union president Herman Van Rompuy. "There is now a historic opportunity to make a breakthrough in EU-Ukraine relations."
An EU statement said the summit "takes place at a defining moment."
At stake for both sides are hopes of signing a political pact -- an Association Agreement -- as early as November, coupled with a free trade deal, despite months of bitter rowing over rights, in particular the jailing of opposition leader and ex premier Yulia Tymoshenko and several of her former ministers.
Kiev's prosecution and incarceration of the 2004 Orange Revolution icon on abuse of power charges has caused a major deterioration in ties with the West, with Yanukovych accused of abusing the courts to eliminate his chief political foe.
Yanukovych says European integration remains a priority for Ukraine, but has complained that Kiev "has received no support, even no sympathy" from the EU amid gas rows with Russia in recent years.
The Association Agreement, which includes provisions for a wide free trade deal, was initialled in March last year despite the tensions and could be signed at a summit in Vilnius in November between the EU and ex-Soviet states of Eastern Europe.
But in December, the 27-nation bloc set out conditions for signing the agreement, including judicial reforms and an end to what the bloc calls "selective justice" against the political opposition.
Last week, Ukraine's ambassador to the EU Kostiantyn Yelisieiev said the country did not want to sign up to a putative ‘customs union’ trading bloc with Russia and one-time Soviet allies but instead "we want to go to the West."
But it is not clear whether that is the position of most Ukrainians.