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Ukraine signs EU trade pact over Russian objections

June 27, 2014 at 6:17 PM EST


JUDY WOODRUFF: In a move angering Moscow, Ukraine’s new leader signed a deal bring his country closer to Europe today.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

PRESIDENT PETRO POROSHENKO, Ukraine: Ukraine paid the highest possible price to make her European dreams come true.

JEFFREY BROWN: Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko came to Brussels to sign the pact that had sparked the crisis in his country.

PETRO POROSHENKO: It is a symbol of faith and of unbreakable will. It is a tribute to people who gave their lives and health to make this moment happen.

JEFFREY BROWN: Last November, Poroshenko’s Kremlin-backed predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, balked at signing the trade agreement to further integrate Ukraine with Europe and move it away from Russia.

That triggered a popular uprising in Kiev, and Yanukovych fled in February.

PETRO POROSHENKO: Of course, all of us would have wished to sign the agreement under different, more comfortable circumstances. On the other hand, the external aggression faced by Ukraine gives another strong reason for this crucial step.

JEFFREY BROWN: That aggression, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea in March, major troop buildups on the Russian border with Ukraine, and accusations of Moscow’s support of separatists in Eastern Ukraine.

Today, President Vladimir Putin said a long-term cease-fire needed to be guaranteed before peace talks among warring parties in Ukraine, and he had tough words for Poroshenko’s government.

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): The anti-constitutional coup in Kiev and the attempts to artificially impose a choice on the Ukrainian people between Europe and Russia have pushed society towards a split and a painful confrontation.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, in Washington, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf applauded the Ukraine deal and dismissed Putin’s complaints.

MARIE HARF, State Department Spokesperson: I think it’s noteworthy that exactly what President Putin was trying to prevent from his interfering in Ukraine has now happened. And he has, on top of that, a lot of baggage to go with it.

JEFFREY BROWN: The baggage comes in the form of U.S. and European sanctions, and there could be more next week.

Hoping to head that off, Russia’s Parliament has rescinded authorization to take military action in Ukraine, at Putin’s request. Still, Russian military exercises restarted yesterday near the Ukrainian border.

Meanwhile, Poroshenko had declared a cease-fire last Friday, but that has been largely in name only. Fighting continued sporadically through the week, with each side blaming the other. Today, the Ukrainian president renewed the cease-fire through the weekend, and a top separatist leader agreed to honor it.

ALEXANDER BORODAI, Prime Minister, “Donetsk People’s Republic” (through interpreter): The cease-fire has been so far very unsuccessful. The fire has not stopped, but, nevertheless, it was a certain pretext to continue dialogue. Therefore, we confirm on our side the extension of the cease-fire for the same duration.

JEFFREY BROWN: Thousands have fled the fighting. The United Nations reported today that more than 100,000 Ukrainians have crossed into Russia this year, seeking safety, and 50,000 others are displaced in their own land.