Brussels offers Ukraine energy if it scraps reactors

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THE European Union will help Ukraine to overcome its energy crisis if it scraps the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, officials in Luxembourg said yesterday. The proposal is contained in a new strategy for assisting the unstable former Soviet republic, that is likely to be agreed by the Commission next week. As fears grow about the political instability of the Union's eastern neighbours, these states are now being given increasing attention.

Ukraine has slid up the list of European priorities in the last six months as the EU and Washington try to untie policy towards Kiev from Russia. Ukraine agreed in January to scrap its nuclear weapons in a tripartite deal with Moscow and Washington, and since then Kiev has lobbied for greater assistance, especially with energy. An EU Partnership and Co-operation agreement was initialled last month, expanding trade ties. Now the Twelve are trying to give more to Ukraine. Help with building new power stations would assist the country overcome its energy crisis.

But this help would be conditional on it scrapping dangerous Soviet-style reactors such as Chernobyl. The EU is also likely to propose help with agriculture and foreign investment to prop up Ukraine's moribund economy.

Sir Leon Brittan, EU Trade Commissioner, told foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg of his plans. The Commission document is likely to recommend macro-economic aid if Ukraine gets an agreement with the International Monetary Fund. It will discuss increased trade access and closer political links. Britain has also prepared a list of proposals; these are likely to be welded with the Commission's approach.

Last night, the EU was said to be closer to a deal with Russia that has been blocked by a row over nuclear trade. Europe maintains limits on imports of nuclear fuel from Russia, largely at the insistence of France. It is hoped this can be removed as an obstacle to signing a Partnership and Co-operation Agreement. The EU is trying to cement ties with Central and Eastern European countries, two of which - Poland and Hungary - have applied to join.