BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she will speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin over pressure exerted by his government on former Soviet republics after Ukraine broke off trade talks with the European Union.
Russia too often views European overtures toward its eastern neighbors for tighter political and economic ties as “directed against Russia,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast.
“That’s not the case,” Merkel said today. “We’re going to have to speak with Russia so that there isn’t always this situation where it’s either/or.” She said she will address the issue with Putin “at the next opportunity.”
Russia and the EU swapped barbs this week after Ukraine’s decision to break off talks for a trade deal with the 28-member bloc, each accusing the other of pressuring the government in Kiev. Merkel is among European leaders who planned to sign the agreement with Ukraine at a Nov. 28-29 summit in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s government said this week it will focus on reviving trade with Russia and other former Soviet republics. Ukraine is crucial to Putin’s ambition to set up a trading area to emulate the EU.
Merkel said the EU must address the issue of competing interests in eastern Europe with Russia to “overcome this political pressure.” Asked whether the development weighed on German-Russian relations, she said “it’s a problem.”
The German chancellor still plans to attend the summit in Vilnius as she works to lock in a coalition agreement to form Germany’s next government. Last week, she urged Ukraine to take “credible” reform steps to move closer to the EU and called for the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
“Tymoshenko is one case, but not the only one,” Merkel said on the podcast.
The EU and Russia each buy about a quarter of Ukrainian exports and have been jostling over relations with the second- most populous former Soviet country, a crucial transit route for energy shipments. The two sides accused each other of blackmail, while Putin said the EU is encouraging protests.
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