BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders have reached an agreement about a demand from the Netherlands on a deal that would establish closer ties between the EU and Ukraine.
The EU’s so-called Association Agreement with Ukraine is vital to Kyiv’s efforts to establish closer ties with the West since mass protests toppled pro-Russian Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in early 2014.
The Netherlands is the only country that has not ratified the deal, with Dutch voters rejecting it in a referendum in April.
The Dutch government has asked the EU for additional guarantees to ensure that ratification of the association agreement does not lead to EU membership for Ukraine.
On December 15, EU leaders meeting in Brussels agreed to issue a special statement saying Ukraine’s association agreement "does not confer on Ukraine the status of a candidate country for accession to the Union, nor does it constitute a commitment to confer such status to Ukraine in the future."
The statement also says the pact "does not contain an obligation for the union or its member states to provide collective security guarantees or other military aid or assistance to Ukraine."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte will now take the proposal to the Dutch parliament for a vote on whether to override the April referendum results.
The agreement came as EU heads of state and government met for a one-day summit to discuss what a senior EU official called a "minefield" of issues faced by the bloc.
EU leaders also agreed at their summit to extend economic sanctions against Russia by another six months, until July 31 2017, for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula and its support for separatists who are fighting Ukrainian government forces in eastern Ukraine.
Then-Ukrainian President Yanukovych's November 2013 decision not to sign the EU Association Agreement, under pressure from Moscow, ignited the Euromaidan protests that pushed him from power in February 2014.
Russia then seized control of Crimea from Ukraine and backed separatists in a war against Kyiv's forces that has killed more than 9,750 people since April 2014 and persists despite a European-brokered cease-fire and settlement deal.
On Syria, the EU leaders called on Syria and Russia to ensure the safety of civilians being evacuated from Aleppo amid allegations from the United Nations of possible war crimes there by Syria, Iran, and Russia.
Francois Fillon, the conservative candidate seen as the front-runner in the French presidential election next spring, said in Brussels that Western diplomacy has failed in Syria and suggested the way to end the more than 5-year-old Syria war would be talks including those responsible for war crimes.
"I told European leaders that what we are forced to concede today is that Western diplomacy and in particular European diplomacy has failed," Fillon, a former French prime minister, told reporters after meeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel and leaders of European center-right parties in Brussels.
He dismissed the option of a U.S. military intervention and said, "The other option is a strong European diplomatic initiative to bring around the table all those who can stop this conflict, including those who have committed war crimes today."
The EU leaders also were holding an informal working dinner, without British Prime Minister Theresa May, to discuss how to handle Britain's departure from the bloc.
May has promised to trigger the two-year process for Britain's exit from the EU by the end of March 2017.