Ukraine not to join Russia trade bloc: Official

KIEV: Ukraine will not join a Russian-led customs union as it would harm its commitment to Western trade blocs, a top aide to new Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was quoted as saying today.

The promise that the president would not seek to join the union that Russia is building with Belarus and Kazakhstan came ahead of Yanukovych’s first visit to Brussels where he will seek to burnish his European credentials.

“As the customs union directly contradicts and will severely complicate Ukraine’s membership in the WTO, this cannot be the issue of today, tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” said Irina Akimova, Yanukovych’s first deputy chief of staff.

Yanukovych had shown “clearly that any new steps towards international cooperation with any countries could be built only on the condition that existing agreements are not violated,” she said in comments published on the website of Ukraine’s Inter television channel.

Akimova said it was Ukraine’s Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko — and not Yanukovych — who had indicated that Ukraine might join the customs union. Ukraine has been a World Trade Organisation member since 2008. Russia has been in talks to join the WTO since 1993 and its long drawn-out membership bid has been complicated by announcements that it could try to join in a bloc with the customs union. Earlier this month, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told the federal customs service chief Andrei Belyaninov to help Ukraine join the customs union if it wanted to be part of it.

Any move by Kiev to join the Russian-led customs union would irritate the EU, which is holding talks with Ukraine on creating a free-trade zone and wants to keep Ukraine from falling into Russia’s sphere of influence.