Leaders of the EU and its eastern neighbors have been gathering in Lithuania for a summit set to be overshadowed by Ukraine's last-minute refusal to sign a key deal with the bloc.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who apparently stopped the deal under Russian pressure, is set to meet privately with EU leaders in Vilnius shortly before the start of the Eastern Partnership Summit on November 28.
The gathering takes place amid large pro-European demonstrations in Ukraine. In Kyiv, some 10,000 people, mostly students, braved the cold late into the night on November 28, demanding that Yanukovych sign the association agreement with the EU..
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said upon arrival in Vilnius that "the door is still open to Ukraine."
A draft final declaration of the summit seen by RFE/RL acknowledges Kyiv's decision to suspend the signing of the political and trade agreement, while at the same time highlighting the Ukrainians' "unprecedented public support and mobilization" in favor of closer ties with the 28-member bloc.
Earlier on November 28, Moldova and Georgia initialed their own association agreements with the EU. The early initialing process leaves one page to be ceremonially initialed during the full-day of summit proceedings on November 29, but means the accords are already irrevocable.
The initialing marks the intention of the parties to go forward and sets the stage for Georgia and Moldova to sign association agreements with Brussels at as yet undetermined dates.
A signed association agreement offers the signatory country the possibility of closer economic integration with the bloc provided the county adjusts its legal, judicial, and economic systems to fit certain EU norms.
Ukraine, which has already initialed the agreement, made the shock decision last week to suspend the signing process. However, some still refused to rule out Ukraine could still change its mind.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite whose country currently holds the EU rotating presidency and hosts EU Eastern Partnership summit, said it depends on Ukraine if and when it will fulfill the criteria.
"[Our message to Ukraine is that] everything is in their own hands," he said. "If they are committed to integrate with Europe, if they are going for democracy and human rights, they are always welcome in our European family."
Nonetheless, while EU officials continue to hold the door open for Ukraine, there was no hiding both their disappointment and anger over Kyiv's announced decision last week that it was putting the agreement process with Brussels on hold.
Speaking earlier on November 28, Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski appeared to fault Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych for claiming the EU was not offering Kyiv enough economic aid to make signing an association agreement worthwhile.
"[The Eastern Partnership] is a program that states an offer of a closer association with Europe and there is a palette of countries' responses to that offer," he said. "There is the Azeri approach, the Belarusian approach, and as we now know a somewhat mercantilist Ukrainian approach, which I think is misguided."
Yanukovych said on November 26 that the EU offered aid worth $829 million but that Ukraine's economy would need $20 billion annually to reach EU standards.
However, Kyiv has left open the possibility it could yet conclude an association agreement with the EU in the future.
Kyiv has said it must resolve remaining trade differences with Russia first and has given no new date for when it might sign an EU accord.
The summit is due to formally begin with a dinner later on November 28.
The EU launched the Eastern Partnership Program with six former Soviet republics -- Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine -- in 2009.
The meeting in Vilnius is the partnership's third summit.
At the summit, Azerbaijan is also expected to sign a visa facilitation agreement with Brussels which would allow its citizens to get EU visas faster in the future.
With reporting by dpa and the BBC