LUXEMBOURG (AP) — European Union foreign ministers told Russia on Monday to stop using trade measures and threats to punish East European nations that are seeking closer ties with the bloc.
The 28 EU countries hope to agree on closer cooperation deals with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia at a Nov. 28-29 summit. But Moscow is urging those nations to align themselves closer with Russia instead, and it is using pressure to back up its demand.
The EU has extensive experience with remaining united in the face of pressure from the outside world, said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. "And no amount of pressure can make us crumble."
"The EU is united in its wish to strengthen relations with Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia," Timmermans said.
To help those nations make that decision, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt and Polish Prime Minister Radoslaw Sikorski left Monday's ministerial meeting in Luxembourg for a whirlwind tour of the three countries to promote closer alignment.
"There might be things that we can do to help the nations that are under pressure from" Russia," Bildt said, and he warned Moscow that any more pressure would be counterproductive.
Russia has told Ukraine that a gas price cut would only be possible if the nation doesn't sign an EU association agreement. Last month, Russia banned Moldovan wine, arguing that it did not meet quality standards.
As a result, next month's EU summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, could be a geopolitical pressure cooker during which nations such as Ukraine must decide whether to have closer ties with Russia or with the European Union.
On Monday, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said, "For us, it is important that Ukraine clearly turns its path toward Europe and not in the direction of Russia."
But Bildt predicted that Russia would take further action to prevent that from happening, and said: "We should be ready for that."
A full EU association agreement could be signed with Ukraine at the Vilnius summit, but only agreements in principle with Georgia and Moldova pending further parliamentary approval.
The EU already has made it easier for Moldovan wines to be imported to the bloc's markets to offset the Russian sanction.
At the same time, the EU is pressuring Ukraine to release and pardon jailed former premier Yulia Tymoshenko, a key condition for the signing of a landmark agreement with the country and the EU next month.
On Monday in Kiev, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych signaled he was unwilling to pardon her and suggested that a special law should be passed allowing Tymoshenko to be sent to Germany for medical treatment.
Maria Danilova contributed from Kiev.