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Putin says EU should not criticize Russia over Ukraine

(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday dismissed European Union criticism over Ukraine’s decision to suspend plans for a trade pact with the EU and denied Moscow had reached a deal to supply cheaper gas to Kiev.

Putin rejected suggestions from Brussels that Russia had pressured Ukraine to pull out of signing the deal at an EU summit this week. He said he had been concerned Russia’s market would have been flooded with EU goods as a result.

“We are not ready to throw open our gates to European goods like that,” Putin said, speaking at a joint news conference after talks with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta in Trieste.

“I would ask our friends in Brussels – my good personal friends in the European Commission – to refrain from harsh words,” he said, referring to a blunt statement from the EU’s two most senior officials on Monday.

In the statement on Monday, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said they “strongly disapprove of the Russia position and actions” on Ukraine’s choice.

Asked whether he had promised Ukraine lower gas prices as an incentive to walk away from the EU deal and move closer to Moscow, he said he and Ukrainian officials had not discussed changing a 2009 contract whose prices are a burden on Ukraine.

“Gazprom and Naftogaz have a contract that I believe is signed until 2019 and we did not discuss revising the contract,” Putin said, referring to the state-controlled Russian gas export monopoly and Ukraine’s state energy company.

He said Russian banks have been providing loans to Ukraine regularly, with the total amount reaching abut $30 billion, adding: “We will continue to work with Ukraine. Not at a loss, but we will work on … energy and in the financial sector.”

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk; Writing by Steve Gutterman; Editing by Douglas Busvine)

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