The European Union’s foreign policy chief said Thursday that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych “intends” to eventually sign a trade and cooperation deal with the E.U. that he shelved in November, sparking mass demonstrations in Kiev.
“Look, Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement,” said Catherine Ashton as she arrived in Brussels after meeting this week with Yanukovych and opposition figures, the Associated Press reports. Approving the deal would ease the burden of Ukraine’s short-term financial and economic issues, she added, because it would bring new investment from other E.U. member-states.
Despite violent clashes with riot police, hundreds of thousands of people continue to swarm the capital in protest, furious at Yanukovych’s decision last month to pivot away from the E.U. over fears of losing trade with Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin aims to build and lead a Eurasian bloc of former Soviet nations that caps the eastern spread of E.U. influence; without Ukraine, that plan could unravel further.
Yanukovych said the E.U. agreement could still be worked out if more aid would be provided to Ukraine in order to offset any loss of eastern trade. Protesters are concerned that he may sign a deal with Putin next week when the two meet.