Europe

Ukraine deal no threat to Russia, says EU

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Media captionPro-EU supporters braved freezing temperatures in Kiev to protest on Sunday

EU foreign ministers have used a high-level meeting to reassure Russia that a possible trade deal with Ukraine would not undermine Moscow's interests.

The EU's Catherine Ashton said they told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov that Ukraine signing the deal would not be "detrimental" to Moscow.

Ukraine recently backed out of signing an EU association agreement, seemingly under pressure from Russia.

The U-turn sparked a series of mass anti-government demonstrations.

The protests, the largest since Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution, are aimed at pushing Mr Yanukovych to dismiss his government and call an election.

'Respect sovereignty'

The talks in Brussels were described by diplomats as "very open and frank".

The foreign minister of Luxembourg, Jean Asselborn, who attended the talks, said Mr Lavrov had argued that any deal would damage Russia's economy by letting in a massive flow of EU products via Ukraine.

Following the talks, Mr Lavrov said there was "a common agreement that everyone should respect the sovereignty of each nation" and "allow people to make a free choice".

Moscow wants Kiev to join a Russian-led customs union instead of signing the EU pact.

Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych is to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday.

Mr Yanukovych has said he fears the EU association and trade agreement will put at risk many enterprises dependent on trade with Russia.

He has said the EU would need to provide at least 20bn euros (£17bn; $27bn) a year to upgrade Ukraine's economy.

Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said if there was a "clear message" from Kiev, then the deal would be ready to sign within a day.

Also on Monday prominent opposition leader and world heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko announced that he was "vacating" his title and that he did not expect to fight again.

"My focus is on politics in Ukraine and I feel the people there need me," he said in a statement.

The World Boxing Council have made him a "champion emeritus", which would allow him to directly challenge a new champion if he wants to resume boxing.

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