Putin: We stand by Ukraine commitments

Brussels - Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted on Tuesday that Moscow would fulfil its economic commitments to Ukraine, even if the country's leadership were to change.

Both sides acknowledged that wide-ranging differences remain between them over the unrest in Ukraine following its decision to turn toward Russia for a bailout loan instead of signing a deal with the European Union. But Putin and the bloc also stressed that economic interests would force them to look for a common future.

They spoke after a summit that had been scheduled to occur over two days but was reduced to one day only by a mutual agreement.

Putin said his main concern in Ukraine is to protect Russia's financial commitments, not geopolitical concerns regarding the former Soviet republic's future.

Putin once promoted closer ties between Russia and the EU, but the dispute over Ukraine cooled their relations. After Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych refused at the last moment to sign a trade pack with the EU in November, the EU was harshly critical of Russia, saying it had used threats to keep the former Soviet republic in its grip.

On Tuesday, the Russian leader said his country will abide by the agreement providing credits and cheaper gas to Ukraine - a deal worth $15bn - even if the government is led by the opposition, which wants close relations with the EU.

"Will we revise our agreements on credits and energy if the opposition comes to power? No we won't."

In Kiev on Tuesday, the prime minister resigned and parliament repealed anti-protest laws that had set off violent demonstrations, significant concessions to the opposition's objections to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's decision regarding the EU.

Putin said Ukraine has gas debts dating back to August totalling $2.7bn and has asked to delay the payments, adding he only learned on Tuesday that Ukraine has asked to put off payments even for gas delivered this year at the lower price.

Ukraine is struggling through an economic downturn and its heavy industry in the east is dependent on natural gas supplies from Russia.

Russia had refused to offer better terms as long as Ukraine was turning its back on Moscow and seeking closer ties with the EU.

The EU has insisted that Russia has used financial incentives and undue pressure to turn Ukraine away from Europe.

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