, BRUSSELS, June 27- The European Union on Friday signed association accords with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova as the three former Soviet republics committed themselves to a future in Europe.
“This is a great day for Europe the European Union stands by your side today more than ever before,” European Council head Herman Van Rompuy said at the ceremony with Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko and prime ministers Irakli Garibashvili of Georgia and Iurie Leanca of Moldova.
Van Rompuy said that the accords contained “nothing that might harm Russia in any way” and that they offered all sides the chance “to chart together a safer future.”
EU officials have consistently argued that Russia has no reason to fear the accords, which offer closer political and economic ties, but Moscow has condemned them as harmful to its economic interests and an intrusion into what has traditionally been its sphere of influence.
Poroshenko said signing the accord would open up a whole new future for Ukraine, including Crimea which Moscow annexed in March, and set it firmly on course for membership of the European Union.
Ukraine had paid a high price in recent months for its ambitions to become part of Europe, he said, but it was worth it because the country’s future was at stake.
“Long Live Ukraine, Long Live Europe,” he said in closing his address at the ceremony, attended by all 28 EU leaders.
Garibashvili said Georgia shared the European values of democracy and freedom.
Significantly, he said Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway regions recognised by Russia as independent since a 2008 war with Tbilsi, would also see the advantages of closer ties with the EU.
“You are sharers in this project,” he said.
Leanca pledged that Moldova would make the most of its association accord, promising that after “many ups and downs we will do everything to modernize” the country.
The signatures Friday are hugely symbolic given the crisis in Ukraine where a Poroshenko peace plan and ceasefire due to expire late Friday hang in the balance.
The last minute ditching of the association accord by Ukraine’s pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in November sparked demonstrations that eventually led to his ouster in February.
That, in turn, led to an angry Russia annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, plunging the West’s relations with the Kremlin to their lowest level since the end of the Cold War.