YALTA, Ukraine — A top Russian official on Saturday warned Ukraine against signing a landmark trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union, saying Moscow would retaliate with trade restrictions that could push this ex-Soviet republic toward default.
Speaking at a conference in the Black Sea city of Yalta, Russian presidential adviser Sergei Glazyev dismissed the benefits of a planned free-trade deal between the EU and Ukraine as "mythology." He warned that tariffs and trade checks that Russia would impose after the deal could cost Ukraine billions of dollars and result in a default.
"Who will pay for Ukraine's default, which will become inevitable?" Glazyev asked. "One has to be ready to pay for that."
Russia is opposing Kiev's plans to sign a free-trade and political association agreement with the 28-member bloc in November, seeking instead to lure Kiev into a Moscow-led economic union. It upped the pressure on Ukraine over the summer by banning the products of a major confectionary maker in Russia and by temporarily halting some Ukrainian imports at its border, dealing a painful blow to Ukrainian business.
Former Economy Minister and confectionary magnate Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Russia for banning his products from Russian stores in order to exert political pressure on Ukraine, saying Moscow had previously resorted to similar tactics when dealing with other dissenting former Soviet republics.
"I am 100 percent sure that nobody either in this forum, nor in the world, would strongly believe that Georgian mineral water or Moldovan wine or Ukrainian chocolate or Lithuanian cheese or Belarusian milk products are really harmful for the health of the Russian consumer. This is simply not true," Poroshenko said.
EU officials have urged Kiev to implement key reforms and sign the EU deal in November, saying Ukraine belongs with the West. The key obstacle to the deal is the incarceration of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose verdict the West has condemned as politically motivated and is pressing hard for her to be released in order for the deal to be signed.
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski exhorted Ukraine to resist the Kremlin pressure and sign the agreement in November, citing Poland's success in joining the bloc.
"We've done it, so can you," Sikorski said.