EU leaders curtail Russia summit

Protesters take part in training exercises using shields to prevent police attacks on Independence Square in Kiev on Monday.— PHOTO: AFP  

The escalating political crisis in Ukraine has cast a deep shadow over Russia’s relations with Europe.

In a blunt display of their irritation with Moscow, the European leaders have curtailed their summit scheduled for Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin, truncated its agenda and cancelled a traditional dinner for the Russian leader. An unnamed EU official in Brussels said on Monday that there cannot be a “business-as-usual summit,” claiming that Russia used economic pressure to block the EU’s trade agreements with Ukraine and Armenia.

What was to be a two-day biannual summit in Brussels has been cut to just three hours of talks , with Mr. Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov sitting across the table from European Council president Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton.

A wider ministerial level discussion has been cancelled and no documents will be signed.

“They explained the trimmed format of the summit by the need to discuss fundamental things as many outstanding issues have accumulated in our relations,” said Yuri Ushakov, Mr. Putin’s foreign policy aide.

Russia and the EU have blamed each other for the crisis in Ukraine, triggered by the decision of President Viktor Yanukovych to ditch an EU free trade and association pact last November in favour of building closer ties with Russia.

After two months of largely peaceful protests against Ukraine’s U-turn, violent clashes erupted in the capital Kiev last week, leading to the death of at least three protesters and one police officer.

As the opposition leaders weigh Mr. Yanukovych’s power-sharing proposal, the situation in Ukraine continues to spin out of control. On Monday an ultra-nationalist group claimed responsibility for killing a police officer.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army UPA threatened to kill “several police officers every week” if the police does not stop “killings of protesters and tortures of prisoners”. The UPA, which was set up during World War II, collaborated with German Nazi forces in battling the Soviet army and was accused of murdering thousands of Poles and Jews.