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Ukraine, EU sign historic trade and economic pact

BRUSSELS -- Ukraine's new president signed a trade and economic pact with the European Union on Friday, pushing his troubled country closer into a European orbit and angering Russia, which warned of unspecified consequences.

A beaming President Petro Poroshenko called it “maybe the most important day for my country” since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

His pro-Moscow predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, backed out of signing the agreement in November and the bloody protests that followed toppled his government, sparking an insurgency in the east and Russia's annexation of the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula.

Agreements signed Friday let businesses in former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia trade freely in any of the EU's 28 member nations without tariffs or restrictions, as long as their goods and practices meet EU standards. Likewise, goods and services from the EU will be sold more easily and cheaply in the three countries.

Closer ties between Ukraine and the EU have long been overshadowed by Russian opposition. Moscow is loath to see its historic influence wane in its strategic neighbor, which it considers the birthplace of Russian statehood and of Russian Orthodox Christianity.

“There will undoubtedly be serious consequences for Ukraine and Moldova's signing,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said.

Georgia has already lost chunks of its territory and Black Sea coast to rebels backed by Russia after a brief war with Russia in 2008.

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not immediately comment on the trade pact, but in recent days has signaled that he wants to de-escalate the conflict ahead of talks later Friday by the EU's heads of state and government on whether to ramp up sanctions against Russia over its conduct toward Ukraine.

“The most important thing is to guarantee a long-term cease-fire as a precondition for meaningful talks between the Kiev authorities and representatives of the southeast (of Ukraine),” Putin said Friday.

A second round of talks was being held Friday in eastern Ukraine between representatives of the mutinous regions and the Kiev government, also involving envoys from Russia and the EU, Russian news agencies quoted rebel leader Andrei Purgin as saying.

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Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko, center, poses with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, left, and European Council President Herman van Rompuy, right, during an EU summit in Brussels on Friday, June 27. (AP)

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