Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk signed elements of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement [materials, EU backgrounder] on Friday, reversing the previous administration's position on the legislation. The signing comes three days after Russian President Vladimir Putin [official website] and representatives of Crimea signed a treaty [JURIST report] that incorporates Crimea into the Russian Federation. It also signals a closer relationship between Ukraine and the EU. The association agreement emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights, the rule of law and sustainable development. In addition, provisions in the agreement intend to foster key reforms in several economic sectors, education and consumer protection. Former president Viktor Yanukovich [BBC profile] originally opposed the agreement in favor of closer ties with Russia. It was this decision that ultimately spurned protests [JURIST report] and his eventual removal from office.
The ongoing conflict [BBC timeline] in Ukraine is being called the "biggest crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War." Ukraine opposition icon and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [official website; JURIST news archive] was released from prison last month after going on a hunger strike [JURIST reports] in support of the protesters supporting the trade pact. Also in February, the Ukrainian Parliament voted to remove Yanukovich [JURIST report] from office following a statement from the president that he would not be resigning despite current escalating violence. Earlier that month US Vice President Joe Biden [official profile] threatened targeted sanctions [JURIST report] against Ukrainian officials responsible for violence against civilian protesters. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] called for a peaceful resolution [JURIST report] to the crisis in Ukraine in February.