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Putin Accuses EU Of 'Blackmailing' Kyiv

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has accused the European Union of "blackmail" and "pressure" against Ukraine over Kyiv's decision not to sign a key political association and free-trade agreement with the EU.
Putin made the comments on November 22 after talks with Turkey's prime minister in St. Petersburg.

"In fact, we have heard threats from our European partners against Ukraine -- up to the point of helping them stage mass protests. So, this is pressure. This is blackmail. And whether Ukraine and the Ukrainian leadership bow to this blackmail will be clear in the coming days," Putin said.
Earlier in the day in Kyiv, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told parliament that the decision not to sign the agreement at an EU summit in Vilnius next week was motivated by economic concerns and was "the only possible" option.

"The decision to suspend the preparations for the signing of an Association Agreement and a free trade zone with the EU was difficult. But it was the only possible way in the economic situation, which Ukraine is in," Azarov said.
The Ukrainian opposition denounced the decision as state treason, and accused President Viktor Yanukovych of selling out to Russia.
Call For Protests

Jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko called on people to go out to the streets to protest against the decision. Her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, read out a letter from the former prime minister in which she compared the government turnabout to a coup.

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The EU has been trying to secure Tymoshenko's release ahead of the signing of the Association Agreement with Kyiv.
Earlier on November 22, about 1,000 protesters gathered in downtown Kyiv, and smaller demonstrations were held in other cities as well.
The opposition has called for a further mass demonstration in Kyiv on November 24.
The EU has voiced disappointment with Ukraine's decision but remains committed to the people of Ukraine.
Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said that Ukraine wasn't a prize to be won.

"It was a relationship that we started to build a long time ago. It's a partnership between the European Union and Ukraine," Kocijancic said.

"We respect the decision of Ukraine but we have outlined a very good case in this partnership and, as I said, we continue to believe that Ukraine's future lies in a strong relationship with the European Union. And we were working exactly in that direction."
Lithuania, which currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency, on November 22 turned down a proposed trilateral trade dialogue between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU.
EU officials had hoped to sign the Association Agreement with Kyiv at the EU's Eastern Partnership summit on November 28-29 in the Lithuanian capital.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels, Reuters, AFP, and Interfax
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