EU faces dilemma: the people vs Putin

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The Independent Online

European leaders were last night staring into a diplomatic abyss as they grappled with the dilemma of whether to accept the stealing of the Ukrainian elections or whether to sacrifice their relations with Russia.

European leaders were last night staring into a diplomatic abyss as they grappled with the dilemma of whether to accept the stealing of the Ukrainian elections or whether to sacrifice their relations with Russia.

It remained unclear whether they will be willing to risk their relationship with Moscow by blaming the Russian President Vladimir Putin for allowing Russian interference.

Mr Putin was swift to accept the claim of victory by the pro-Russian prime minister, Viktor Yanukovich, while EU foreign ministers denounced the elections as "fraudulent" and expressed concern over reports of vote-rigging.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said he was "very concerned", adding: "It is very difficult to argue that this is a free and fair election." But Mr Putin retorted that criticism from election monitors was "inadmissible" as there are still no official results.

The presidential elections have been seen as a key test of Ukraine's political direction, with the liberal challenger, Viktor Yushchenko, championing closer integration with Nato and the EU, rather than stronger economic ties with Moscow as backed by Mr Yanukovich.

The Ukrainian elections took place against a background of a proxy war between Russia and the EU - with the US - for strategic influence. The war of nerves between the EU, which views Ukraine as its "common neighbourhood" and Russia, which considers the former Soviet republic as its "near abroad" is likely to come to a head tomorrow at a summit in The Hague.

EU diplomats said that much would depend on the situation following the massive demonstrations in Kiev. One Russian diplomatic source said: "Russia and the EU both have an interest in avoiding the incitement of violence in Ukraine. There is always a chance of unexpected progress, and both sides will try to make the summit a success."

Over the past decade, the EU has given Ukraine more than €1bn (£700m) in assistance - funding which could be reduced. But European leaders are anxious not to make their rhetoric too tough while there is at least some theoretical hope the Ukrainian Supreme Court will overturn the result. They are also aware that, with Ukraine now a neighbour of the EU, they will have to deal with Kiev whatever the next government looks like.

The dispute between the EU and Russia over Ukraine is the latest in a series after the EU's enlargement left the enclave of Kaliningrad physically separated rom Russia.

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