LONDON -- Ukraine sealed a deal Friday to draw closer politically to the European Union, firmly looking to the West for guidance and support even as Russia pulled the contested Crimean peninsula eastward.
The pact revives an agreement that Brussels offered the government in Kiev several months ago but that the then-president of Ukraine jettisoned at the last minute in favor of closer ties with Moscow. The abrupt turnaround touched off months of protests, the toppling of the former president and Russia’s incursion into Crimea.
The signing of the EU deal risks further angering Moscow, which sees a European-leaning Ukraine as a threat. But acting Ukraine Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk brushed aside any concern and hailed the agreement.
“Frankly speaking, I don’t care about Russia [in] signing this deal. I care about Ukraine, Ukrainians and our European future,” Yatsenyuk said. “This deal meets an aspiration of millions of Ukrainians that want to be a part of the European Union.”
EU membership is not actually on offer. But the agreement puts Ukraine squarely in the orbit of the EU, which pledged to sign it immediately as a riposte to Russia’s takeover of Crimea. On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally approved the peninsula’s annexation, which the West refuses to recognize as legitimate.
An economic deal between Kiev and Brussels, which formed part of the original pact, is being deferred until after Ukrainian elections in May. In a further dig at Moscow, the EU said it would sign similar political agreements with Georgia and Moldova, which Russia sees as also properly in its sphere of influence.
Earlier Friday, the leaders of the 28 EU nations announced their intention to add a dozen more names to the list of mostly Russian and Crimean officials on whom they’ve imposed travel bans and asset freezes in response to the Crimean crisis. The leaders also instructed EU staff to come up with possible economic sanctions on Moscow if the situation deteriorates – namely, if Russian forces move into eastern Ukraine.
In an unexpected move, the EU said it was slapping a near-embargo on any goods from Crimea that did not transit through Ukraine first.
“We will only accept Crimean goods in the EU if they come from Ukraine and not Russia,” British Prime Minister David Cameron said. “From now on, goods from Crimea have to come through Ukraine or they’re going to get very hefty penalties and tariffs put on them.”
Yatsenyuk said that “the best way to contain Russia is to impose real economic leverage over them,” and criticized Moscow’s attempt to “impose a new post-Cold War order and to revise the results of the Second World War.”
But a pro-Kremlin political scientist in Moscow ridiculed the new accord between the EU and Ukraine – and called for an invasion of Ukraine to keep it from going into effect.
“The Kremlin should stop this farce and deploy Russian troops in Ukraine as soon as possible to create a situation for really free and democratic elections of its organs of power,” said Sergei Markov, vice president of Russian Plekhanov University of Economics. “We will not allow Russians and Ukrainians in Ukraine to be turned into slaves.”
Times staff writer Sergei L. Loiko in Moscow contributed to this report.