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Ukraine signs EU trade pact as Russia finalizes Crimea annexation

Six Russian special forces’ armored personnel carriers broke through the gates of Belbek Airbase. Pro-Russia demonstrations were planned for Sunday in Ukrainian cities. Ukraine’s Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk explained his country only had two options to respond to Russia’s moves.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed the political elements of a trade pact with the European Union on Friday, even as Russian lawmakers finalized annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
The signing in Brussels signals Europe’s solidarity with Ukraine – and carries additional symbolic force because it was the decision by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in November to ditch the trade pact in favor of closer ties with Russia that triggered the protests that led to his ouster in February and spiraled into the current crisis.
It also comes a day after the European Union and the United States slapped sanctions on Russian lawmakers and businessmen; Russia responded with its own list of sanctions against a number of U.S. lawmakers and officials.
In Brussels, Ukraine’s Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk explained his country only had two options to respond to Russia’s moves, the Voice of America reports.
“The first one is military, which is not really acceptable for the world to have the third world war,” he noted. “The second one is political, diplomatic and economic. The best way to contain Russia is to impose real economic leverage over them.”
In another sign of defiance, Russian President Vladimir Putin, flanked by the speakers of both houses of Parliament, signed a treaty Friday finalizing the accession to Russia of the Crimea region and its port city of Sevastopol.
President Basescu: Encouraging move for Ukraine
Signing of the political component of the Association Agreement and the Free Trade Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union is an encouraging move for Kiev, with the full agreement to be signed after the May 25 election for the European Parliament, Romanian President Traian Basescu said in Brussels on Friday, Agerpres informs.
‘The European Council backs Ukraine’s aspirations of deciding its future by itself, not influenced by the neighbouring countries, regional or global powers. /…/ The Council believes it has the priority of supporting restoring the macroeconomic balances of Ukraine. It must very clearly be said here, and it was also discussed at the Council, that the economic situation Ukraine has ended up in is due to a relatively long and poor-quality governance and the extremely high corruption’, Basescu told a news conference in Brussels on the sidelines of the meeting of the European Union heads of states and governments on Thursday and Friday.
The Romanian leader stressed the EU can make available 1.6 billion euros in cash to Ukraine today and it will ultimately make it available 11.5 billion euros by the contribution of the EIB and EBRD.
‘The condition set for such 1.6 billion euros amount to be made available is the closure of a deal with the IMF. Therefore, the EU will be the IMF partner in the attempt to rescue Ukraine from declaring default and later on in the attempt to restore the macroeconomic balances of the country’s economy,’ he explained.
Basescu added the Government of Ukraine has been called to ensure that all regions and options are represented in its structures.
The EU, Basescu stressed, remains via the European Council further committed to backing the independence, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine and at the same time Ukraine does not recognise the result of the ‘illegal and unconstitutional referendum’ held in Crimea on March 16.
Therefore, the Romanian president added, Crimea’s annexation by the Russian Federation is considered illegal.
NATO commander warns of Russian threat to Transdniestria
NATO’s top military commander said on Sunday that Russia had a large force on Ukraine’s eastern border and he was worried it could pose a threat to Moldova’s separatist Transdniestria region, VoA informs.
“There is absolutely sufficient (Russian) force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Transdniestria if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome,’’ NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, U.S. Air Force General Philip Breedlove, told an event held by the German Marshall Fund think-tank. “The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizeable and very, very ready.’’
Moscow’s ambassador to the EU told the BBC the “reunification” had not been pre-planned but was the end of an “abnormality” which had lasted for 60 years, the BBC informs on the other hand.
Russia moves to consolidate control over Crimea
Pro-Russia demonstrations were planned for Sunday in Ukrainian cities, as Russian forces continued consolidating their control over Crimea over the weekend, CNN informs.
But the shows of favor for Moscow are to take place outside the peninsula – in cities in Ukraine’s south and east, where there are many ethnic Russians.
On Saturday, six Russian special forces’ armored personnel carriers broke through the gates of Belbek Airbase, firing warning shots into the air, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense in Crimea, told CNN. One journalist was injured in the attack, said Vladislav Seleznev.
Once inside, the Russians lined up the Ukrainians in one place, he said.
In a separate incident, pro-Russian self-defense forces stormed the Novofederoskoe military base, also in Crimea, taking control of it, a Ukraine defense ministry spokesman said Saturday.
Seleznev also claimed that Crimean self-defense forces and Russian special forces took another Ukrainian ship, the Slavutych.
Visa and MasterCard block Russian bank customers
Visa and MasterCard have blocked credit card services to some Russian bank customers as a result of US sanctions, the BBC informs.
Four banks are so far affected, all of which have links to Russians blacklisted by the US.
Visa and MasterCard, both US-based companies, are forbidden from having any dealings with those targeted by the sanctions.

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