Putin denies Russia sabotaged talks on free trade zone with Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin © Maxim Zmeyev
Russia didn’t ditch negotiations with Europe over its free trade agreement with Ukraine, said Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. The EU left the negotiations with the words “game over,” which isn’t “very European and intolerant,” according to Putin.

The European Commission has said the EU, Russia and Ukraine were close to reaching an accord over Ukraine’s integration into Europe. However, according to the EU, Moscow didn’t show enough flexibility to make the talks successful.

According to Russia’s Economic Development Minister Aleksey Ulyukayev, talks failed because Ukraine and the EU were not prepared to take into account Russian interests.

Russia’s position is that Ukraine is not entitled to preferential trade with CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries once it aligns itself with the European trade block. Moscow is also concerned that without new customs regulations, Ukraine could re-label and export European products currently under embargo in Russia.

The food embargo against Ukraine has nothing to do with the failed talks, according to Ulyukayev. It is a proportionate response to Ukraine’s joining US and EU-backed anti-Russian sanctions in August, he said. That’s why Moscow has cancelled the free trade agreement with Kiev and introduced an embargo against Ukrainian foodstuffs, he added.

President Putin said that after Russia raised some controversial issues at Monday’s talks, the head of the EU delegation said that "the game is over," got up and left.

“It was not very European, very intolerant,” said President Putin, adding that “The following day they published a press release saying it was Russia that sabotaged the negotiations.”

"I think that we will come back to these issues. We want to build a relationship with our partners in Ukraine and the EU on trade," the President said.

The economic part of Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the EU comes into force on 1 January 2016. Russia and Ukraine are currently trading in accordance with the free trade agreement between CIS countries. Moscow says it is trying to defend its economic interests and has said Kiev will lose the tariff-free preference and food exports to Russia from the beginning of the next year.

Accusing Russia of sabotaging the talks is false and cynical, said Russia’s First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, adding that the Russian authorities will release all information concerning the progress of the negotiations.