BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union on Friday promised Russia a bruising summit meeting next month centering on their geopolitical confrontation over the allegiance of Ukraine.
EU President Herman van Rompuy and other EU leaders on Friday made renewed calls on Ukraine to sign a cooperation deal despite being snubbed by President Viktor Yanukovych, who wants closer ties with Moscow instead.
And they blamed Moscow for applying undue pressure through trade threats and sweeteners like the $15 billion bailout package and pledges to discount gas exports offered this week. European Union leaders and Russian President Vladimir Putin have a meeting scheduled in Brussels at the end of January, and Van Rompuy made it clear he will complain forcefully about alleged Russian interference in Yanukovych's decision not to sign the EU agreement.
"We will not avoid the problem and will talk openly about our concerns and the pressure that is put, not only on Ukraine, but also other countries," Van Rompuy said. Beyond Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have reached a political agreement on a trade and political cooperation deal and EU leaders, holding a summit of their own, urged Friday that the two former Soviet republics "sign these agreements as soon as possible and no later than the end of August 2014," lest threats or promises from the Kremlin make them reconsider.
"Let's make sure Russia doesn't apply pressure in an excessive way," French President Francois Hollande said. "If Russia want to help Ukraine, all the better for Ukraine," Hollande said. "But let's make sure that that's not done to prevent something. It's for the Ukrainians and the Ukrainians alone to decide. "
Despite Yanukovych's criticism of the West for allegedly nurturing the massive protests in Kiev that have called on him to sign the association agreement, EU leaders continue to hold out hope that he will change his mind.
They insist that for Ukraine, aligning itself with the 28-nation bloc would bring the economic advantages of a potential market of 500 million consumers, democratic rule of law and aid that could top $26 billion over a seven-year span.
President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, which holds the EU presidency, said "Europe is open for Ukrainian people, but not necessarily for this government. That's the message." Such talk has angered Yanukovych, who views it as an overt attempt to undermine his rule.
"Some countries should not meddle in our internal affairs and should not believe that they can be the bosses here," he said Thursday. He has faced nearly a month of protests since his abrupt decision to shelve the EU deal and turn toward Russia. The rallies swelled to hundreds of thousands after riot police violently broke up the first small protests.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso ignored Yanukovych's objections about foreigners siding with the protesters. "When we see those European flags in the street of Ukraine by this very, very cold temperature, we cannot resist to say that this is indeed part of the European family," Barroso said Friday.
AP correspondent John-Thor Dahlburg contributed to this story.
Follow Raf Casert on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/rcasert