VILNIUS -- Brussels says it regrets Kyiv's decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union at this week's Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius.
But EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said Brussels will be ready to resume preparations for signing an association agreement as soon as Ukraine is "ready to resume it path towards political association and economic integration with the European Union."
"I regret this decision," Fuele told a civil-society conference on November 28 in Vilnius, where EU officials and leaders of the so-called Eastern Partnership countries are gathering for a two-day conference. "It was a unique opportunity to reverse a discouraging trend of decreasing foreign direct investment in Ukraine and to give momentum to negotiations with the IMF [International Monetary Fund] on a new stand-by arrangement. Many of the new opportunities for modernization and investment that the association agreement would have brought for Ukraine and its citizens will now be delayed."
Another EU representative said that Moscow had pressured Kyiv not to sign the accords this week and the pressure raised questions about Russia's respect for the sovereignty of its neighboring states.
"I wonder sometimes when I see the extent of the targeted interference of recent months from Russia particular with enterprises in southern and eastern Ukraine to what extent not just independence is respected but more particularly sovereignty," Pat Cox, former European Parliament president and member of the Cox-Kwasniewski mission to Ukraine, said. "It would be a great pity if free nations found themselves independent but in terms of the exercise of their sovereignty unfree. This is not an acceptable condition in contemporary Europe."
The EU officials spoke ahead of the Eastern Partnership summit that opens later on November 28 with a formal dinner.
The six Eastern Partnership members are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Molodova, and Ukraine.
The meeting in Vilnius, the third summit of the EU's Eastern Partnership program launched in 2009, continues through November 29.
During the gathering, the participants are expected to sign a joint declaration that reconfirms the importance of the partnership.
The partnership offers the six eastern European and South Caucasus states the possibility of closer economic integration with the EU through association and free-trade accords provided they meet certain conditions.
Those conditions include combatting corruption and crime and building sustainable democracies with legal, judicial, and economic systems that fit EU norms.
Ukraine's decision not to sign an Association Agreement with the EU at the current summit represents a major setback to the Eastern Partnership program's hopes of reaching a first such deal with one of the six states.
However, Georgia and Moldova are expected at the summit to initial Association Agreements with the EU, an endorsement intended to signal the readiness of both sides to advance to the signing stage at a later date.
Armenia had been on course to also endorse an Association Agreement but in September decided not to go ahead, saying it planned to join Russia's customs union with Belarus and Kazakhstan instead.
At the summit, Azerbaijan is expected to sign a visa-facilitation agreement with Brussels that would allow its citizens to get EU visas faster in the future.
Belarus has shown little interest in applying the political reforms designated by the Eastern Partnership and has become subject to EU sanctions rather than integrating more closely with the bloc.
Based on reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Rikard Jozwiak in Vilnius and BBC