Ukrainian leader tacks back towards EU from Russia

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The Independent Online

The President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, denied yesterday that his country's EU ambitions had been put on the back burner, insisting that Ukraine's "European choice" remained an "unchanged priority for his government".

His choice of words suggested a very deliberate attempt to counter claims that Ukraine's hopes of EU membership had been sacrificed to a rapprochement with Russia.

His remarks were given extra weight by the setting: the opening of an annual Europe forum at the Livadia Palace in Yalta, where Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin carved up Europe in 1945.

The decision of the Ukrainian President not only to follow his pro-Western predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko, in opening the forum, but to share the platform with the recently elected President of Poland, Bronislaw Komorowski, was seen as a telling – and unexpected – statement about Ukraine's foreign policy direction.

With Mr Yanukovych as the pro-Russian president, who has steered Ukraine back towards closer relations with Moscow, the widespread assumption had been that Ukraine had shelved its hopes of EU membership. Yesterday's speech made it clear Ukraine's EU ambitions are very much alive.

Even as the Ukrainian President was reaffirming his country's EU aims, the Constitutional Court in Kiev handed down a ruling that seemed to convey a different message. In response to an appeal by the Party of the Regions, Mr Yanukovych's party, the court declared the 2004 Constitution unlawful. That Constitution, passed in the wake of the Orange Revolution, had redistributed power between the President and Parliament, to the benefit of the latter.

The decision was seen by Ukraine's opposition groups as a defeat for democracy. They suggested the country was on a fast track to authoritarianism.