German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that Ukraine must take "credible steps" in order to clinch a trade agreement with the EU, but also promised to counteract any retaliatory measures from Russia if Kiev did what was needed to secure a deal.
"I would like to make it clear again. We expect credible steps from Ukraine in fulfilling the criteria for a cooperation agreement," Merkel said in a speech in the Bundestag lower house of parliament. "We expect this process to be implemented sustainably and irreversibly."
With less than two weeks to go before the agreement is due to be signed at a summit in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, the European Union has made clear that Ukraine has not done enough to meet the conditions for a signing.
The main sticking point is Ukraine's jailing of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a fierce opponent of President Viktor Yanukovich. The EU, which sees Tymoshenko as the victim of a political trial, is pressing Yanukovich to end the stand-off and free her to be able to go to Germany for medical treatment for back trouble.
Mentioning Tymoshenko by name, Merkel said the EU expected the former Soviet republic to show movement on the issue of "selective justice". It must also modernise its election system and fulfill other criteria specific to the trade and cooperation deal, she said.
"We know that the decision to bind itself closer to the European Union is not an easy one, neither for Ukraine nor for our partners. In the last months, some of them have exerted a huge amount of pressure," she said, mentioning Russia, which has tried to dissuade its former Soviet ally from signing the deal.