“BRUSSELS—The European Union and three of Russia’s neighbors signed sweeping trade-and-political agreements Friday, pushing the bloc’s influence eastward but potentially provoking fresh tensions with Moscow.
The deals with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova, which lower trade barriers and promote democratic reforms, were years in the making but faced doubts recently as Moscow stepped up its opposition. Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region in March, has said it might retaliate against the three countries by curtailing trade ties.
But EU leaders want to show they won’t let a newly aggressive Russia deter them from welcoming countries into the European orbit. Many nations on Russia’s periphery have become more eager to align with the EU as a way to protect themselves against potential Russian threats.
The leaders of Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova said Friday that the agreements are a pivotal step in aligning their countries permanently with Europe. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko stressed the rapid changes engulfing his country in recent months, including street protests and the previous government’s ouster, that led to this moment.
“What a great day—maybe the most important day for my country after independence day,” Mr. Poroshenko said as the heads of all 28 EU countries looked on. “It shows how dramatically things can change in a short time, if the will of the people is strong enough.”
But leaders of both sides warned of challenges ahead. EU officials stressed that the three countries must keep up their reforms. Mr. Poroshenko said the EU must stand by Ukraine as it goes through a tough transition in the face of Russian displeasure…..”Twitter