President Viktor Yanukovych expects the EU-Ukraine summit in Brussels on February 25th to begin a new stage in the process of Ukraine's European integration.
"I think we will decide to pass to the next stage, which will end with the signing of the Association Agreement with the EU," Yanukovych said on Friday in the Dialogue with the Country live TV program. He emphasized the importance of creating a free trade area with the EU, saying this issue would also be raised at the summit, along with the issue of passing to the second phase of implementing the Visa Liberalization Action Plan with the EU. The Dialogue with the Country program was broadcast live on several major national TV channels. The President spoke for "keeping a reasonable balance" in Ukraine's relations with the EU and Russia, admitting that the "unfairly excessive" price of Russian natural gas remained the biggest stumbling block in the way of strategic partnership relations between Kyiv and Moscow. "We continue negotiations with our Russian partners, and we have now made considerable headway in these negotiations. However, no definite decision has been made yet. We are still hoping to reach a compromise that will help reduce the price of Russian gas," Yanukovych said. He ruled out the possibility of selling Ukraine's gas transmission system (GTS), saying, "We are not going to sell the gas pipeline. It must remain national property. Possibly, we will lease the pipeline so as to maintain it at the expense of the lease payments. We will make the final decision in a couple of months, and it will be an above-board one," he said. According to him, founding an international consortium to manage the GTS is not the end objective. "Our goal is not to found a consortium. Our goal is to effectively use the GTS," he said. He also ruled out any rise in the prices of natural gas for households or industrial consumers. "You can be sure that we will not increase the price. The government understands very well what competitiveness means to our economy. We will strive to be competitive and we won't force our manufacturers into a corner and make the prime cost of our products unprofitable," the President said. He hailed the news of the parliament's work being unblocked by the opposition, saying that the parliament would hopefully catch up with its lawmaking schedule and would pass the bills badly needed for Ukraine's economic and social development and European integration.