EU and former Soviet Union leaders meet as tensions in Russia simmer
As tensions with Russia simmer, European Union leaders met their counterparts from Ukraine and four other former Soviet republics on Wednesday and pledged to deepen political, trade, energy and cultural ties.
The EU’s Eastern Partnership includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is boycotting the forum over EU sanctions following a fraud reported during his re-election last year, a security measure against anti-government protesters that followed.
A Belarusian flag was left at the summit table where he is said to have sat. “There was an empty chair in the room, and I hope that this chair will soon be occupied by a legitimate and democratically elected Belarusian leader,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The Eastern Partnership was set up after Moscow sent troops to Georgia in 2008, blowing Europeans and much of the world away. It aims to improve and deepen relations between the six countries, most of which share borders with Russia and are energy poles of strategic importance, as well as with the EU27.
The meeting aimed to affirm the strong commitment of the participants to our strategic, ambitious and forward-looking partnership, based on common core values, according to the summit’s final declaration.
The 32 participating countries said they were bound by our common determination to further strengthen democracy and the rule of law in our societies, according to the text, which was made public after five hours of talks in Brussels.
The word Russia was not mentioned once in the nine-page statement, despite Moscow’s opposition to one of the six countries involved in the partnership deepening ties with the EU.
The EU has announced that it will offer Eastern countries an economic and investment plan of 2.3 billion euros ($ 2.6 billion), which it hopes will attract up to to 17 billion euros (19 billion dollars) of public and private investments for the region.
The EU also stressed the need to differentiate acceptance that some of the six might be able to deepen their relations with the bloc more quickly. Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, for example, have free trade pacts that ease tariffs and other barriers to European trade.
In 2014, then Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed his trade deal, ignoring Moscow’s vehement opposition, and said his country wanted to join the EU. His pro-Russian predecessor was forced to flee Ukraine after his rejection of the free trade agreement, sparking months of pro-EU protests.
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