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Dutch Senate Backs Key EU-Ukraine Pact


The Dutch Senate has approved the European Union's Association Agreement with Ukraine, paving the way for ratification of the pact strengthening ties between the EU and Kyiv.

The 50-to-25 vote in the upper house of parliament in the Netherlands on May 30 marks one of the final stages in a long path to the landmark deal, which had initially been slated for signing in November 2013.

Then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych balked at the deal under pressure from Moscow, prompting massive protests that pushed him from power in February 2014.

Russia responded by seizing Ukraine's Crimea region and backing separatists whose war against Kyiv's forces has killed more than 9,900 people in eastern Ukraine -- moves that have reinforced the desire of many Ukrainians for closer relations with the EU.

The Dutch lower house of parliament backed the agreement in a vote weeks before March 15 parliamentary elections, and King Willem-Alexander is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

European diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity have told RFE/RL that it could be ratified during an EU-Ukraine summit in July and would enter into force in early autumn.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement that the vote "sends an important signal from the Netherlands and the entire European Union to our Ukrainian friends: Ukraine's place is in Europe. Ukraine's future lies with Europe.”

On his Facebook page, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko thanked Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his country for their support, hailing the agreement as "a guarantee of our freedom, independence, and territorial integrity."

Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the ratification of the accord "will give the authorities in Kyiv a bit more time to cultivate the fable of a 'bright European future'," according to Russian news agencies.

The Netherlands is the only EU country that has yet to approve the agreement with Ukraine.

The agreement's fate was plunged into uncertainly when 61 percent of Dutch voters opposed it in a citizen-driven, nonbinding referendum in April 2016.

The Dutch government eased voters' concerns in December by adding a legally binding supplement to the Association Agreement to underscore that it will not give Kyiv the right to automatic EU membership or guarantee any EU military aid for Ukraine.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak, AFP, Reuters, AP, TASS, and Interfax
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