Officials in Kyiv and Strasbourg cheered the ratification of a historic association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union. Russian pressure however, has forced a delay in the implementation of the deal.
The ratification Tuesday of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement received strong support in Kyiv and Strasbourg. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has called the pact a "de facto" reform program for Ukraine as it creates a free-trade environment with the European Union.
In simultaneous ceremonies, the documents were signed in Kyiv and in Strasbourg by Ukrainian and EU officials, respectively.
"This is a historic moment," European parliament president Martin Schulz said during the ratification ceremony in Strasbourg. "Two parliaments doing this at the same time by agreement - that is free democracy, that is free self-determination, that's the opposite of directed democracy," he said.
The deal was approved in the European Parliament by a margin of 535 to 127, with 35 abstentions. The Ukrainian parliament for its part approved the agreement unanimously, with all 355 deputies who took part in the vote deciding to vote in the affirmative.
"No nation has ever paid such a high price to become Europeans," Poroshenko said, referring to the protestors killed in anti-government demonstrations last year after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich rejected an association agreement with the EU. Yanukovich's rejection of the deal ignited weeks of violent protests, and led to his eventual ouster.
"Tell me please, who after this will dare close the door of Europe to Ukraine? Who will be against the prospective of membership in the EU, towards which we are taking today our first but most decisive step," Poroshenko said.
The association agreement however, will not go into immediate effect.
Due to Russian pressure, a compromise was made last week that will see the free trade section of the association agreement delayed until 2016.
Moscow had threatened to impose harsher trade restrictions on Kyiv if the deal went into effect as initially planned on November 1, amid concerns over a possible flood of cheap European goods into the Russian market stemming from Russia's own free trade arrangement with Ukraine.
bw/dr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)