BRUSSELS (AP) — Ukraine's deputy prime minister said Thursday his financially troubled country will soon sign a trade and cooperation deal with the EU after the bloc promised more aid to the former Soviet republic.
Serhiy Arbuzov's comment came after a day of talks with EU Commissioner Stefan Fuele in Brussels, which were being closely watched by anti-government protesters in Ukraine who are demanding such a deal.
"Ukraine will soon sign this association agreement with the European Union," Arbuzov said. That would mark a U-turn by President Viktor Yanukovych, who had refused to close such a deal with the European Union at a summit in Lithuania two weeks ago.
Fuele said such an agreement would lead to "bigger and bigger" EU financial aid to Ukraine, and that the bloc has "made a clear commitment to match in our financial support the level of ambitions of our Ukrainian partners."
Earlier Thursday, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said that Yanukovych had told her he "intends to sign" at some point the trade and cooperation agreement he had rejected.
For weeks, activists have been amassed in Kiev, Ukraine's capital, to protest Yanukovych's decision regarding the EU deal.
They are deeply concerned that he could instead sign an agreement to join a Russia-led customs union when he and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet next week.
Yanukovych appears to be in a tough corner. As protesters furious over his decision to turn away from the EU clog the center of Kiev, he appeared to be leaving his options open for the best deal he can get from his economically troubled country's powerful suitors.
Russia has put heavy pressure on Ukraine to join its bloc, which includes Belarus and Kazakhstan. Opponents say the bloc effectively tries to recreate the Soviet Union.
Yanukovych has said he is still open to the EU association agreement, if he can get a deal providing more aid to Ukraine, which is concerned about the impact of losing trade with Russia.
"We have explained the principle 'more for more,'" said Fuele, and his commitment on aid, including promises to top up some International Monetary Fund loans with more assistance could provide the breakthrough.
"Europe has yet again confirmed that the doors remain open to Ukraine, and the Ukrainian government yet again has confirmed that it still is on the same course to euro integration," Arbuzov said.