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Ukraine Starts Talks On Visa-Free Entry To EU

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -- Ukraine has launched talks towards winning visa-free entry for its citizens to the European Union and said it aimed to secure the status by the time it co-hosts the European soccer championship in 2012.

In announcing the launch of the talks with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko in Brussels, EU Justice Commissioner Jacques Barrot said the aim was to develop the relevant conditions for a visa-free regime "in the long term."

Ukraine aims to secure the status by 2012 when it is due to co-host the European soccer championship with Poland.

"In four years we will be ready to address all of these conditions," Ohryzko told a joint news conference with Barrot.

The European Union pledged in September to deepen ties with Ukraine, a former part of the Soviet Union that is a key transit route for energy supplies to the EU. The move followed the Russian intervention in Georgia, but Brussels stopped short of offering Kyiv a membership pledge.

Barrot said the time it took Ukraine to achieve visa-free travel would depend on Kyiv meeting the conditions.

Ukraine has already exempted EU citizens from visa requirements and Barrot said that since the start of the year, Ukrainians had been given easier access to EU visas.

"Today's meeting constitutes a further step and opens a dialogue with the authorities of Ukraine with the aim of establishing a visa-free regime for all its citizens in the long term," he said in a statement

Ukraine, which has been promised eventual membership of the NATO military alliance, is also studying the possibility of contributing forces to EU military groups, the head of the EU military committee told a separate news conference.

General Henri Bentegeat said Ukraine made the proposal to contribute to one or two EU battlegroups to a meeting of EU military chiefs in Brussels on October 29.

"Of course we would welcome any Ukrainian participation," Bentegeat said. "They are listing possible assets they could operate in European battlegroups; the list is a very long one."

Bentegeat said the list included engineer battalions, air-mobile battalions, medical evacuation aircraft, and strategic airlift capabilities.

EU battlegroups are mostly made up of multinational forces. They each consist of anything from several hundred to 1,500 combat soldiers and can be deployed in missions by the council of the 27 EU member states.

Non-EU members Turkey and Norway already contribute forces to EU battlegroups.