* EU, six eastern partners to hold summit on May 21-22
* Ambitions scaled back due to Russia tensions
By Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, May 5 The European Union will
implement a free-trade pact with Ukraine from next year despite
Russian pressure for another delay, according to a draft
statement prepared for a summit with six of the bloc's eastern
neighbours this month in Riga.
The joint declaration, which is likely to antagonise Moscow,
commits to the deal from Jan. 1, 2016, a date already a year
later than planned as Russia seeks to oppose European efforts to
integrate Ukraine and move it out of Moscow's sphere of orbit.
Russia is pushing for the deal to be postponed by at least
another year, according to a Ukrainian official, but the EU is
insisting there can be no further delay.
Although the EU is willing to discuss Russian concerns,
implementation "will be a top priority of the EU and the
partners concerned for the coming years," the draft said.
The deal is at the heart of tensions that have grown from a
tug-of-war over influence in Kiev to sanctions, the annexation
of Crimea by Russia, armed conflict in eastern Ukraine, and
concern among some in the West about a new Cold War.
But aside from the EU's show of support for Ukraine, the
May 21-22 Eastern Partnership summit will offer little for
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Moldova, according to
the draft, as EU governments lower their ambitions for fear of
further provoking the Kremlin.
Moldova, Georgia and Ukraine signed association agreements
with the European Union last year and want to join the European
Union. But the draft made no mention of their aspirations.
Instead, it said that neither Georgia nor Ukraine will
immediately be granted visa-free travel to the European Union,
as Tbilisi and Kiev had hoped, and that they need reforms to be
able to enjoy the kind of treatment Moldova has obtained.
The tepid tone was far from the ambitions of the last
Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius in 2013, where the
European Union sought to encourage a historic shift away from
Russia by the six former Soviet republics.
Brussels now appears to accept that Armenia has chosen to
side with Moscow after the country decided in 2013 to join a
customs union led by Russia, its former Soviet master and its
biggest foreign investor. "It is for the EU and its sovereign
partners to decide on how they want to proceed with their
bilateral relations," the draft said.
(Additional reporting by Adrian Croft; editing by Ralph