BRUSSELS -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych "intends to sign" the far-reaching trade and cooperation agreement with the EU that he rejected only last month, the European Union's foreign policy chief said Thursday after talks with the embattled leader.
Catherine Ashton said it was clear that the short-term economic and financial issues Ukraine faces can be alleviated by signing the association agreement, which she said would bring in fresh investment from EU nations.
"Look, Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement," Ashton said on arrival for a meeting in Brussels early Thursday after her visit to Kiev.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in the weeks since to call for closer ties to the EU and a shift from Russia, which has ruled or dominated Ukraine for centuries.
EU and other Western diplomats have increased their pressure on Yanukovych to seek a solution to the tensions that have paralyzed the economically troubled nation of 46 million. Yanukovych has maintained that a deal with the EU could still be worked out if Kiev was offered better conditions.
Ashton said Ukraine's economic problems "can be addressed by the support that not only comes from the EU institutions, but actually by showing that he has a serious economic plan in signing the association agreement."
The signature on the EU association agreement "will help to bring in the kind of investment that he needs," she said.
Ukrainians in the east look more favorably on
closer ties with their giant neighbor, and Russia has worked hard to derail the
accord. Yanukovych, who is seeking a bailout loan from the International
Monetary Fund to keep Ukraine from going bankrupt, is sensitive to the economic
disruption that trade disputes with Russia can cause.