The Kremlin’s outrage at this rebuff to President Vladimir Putin’s long-term plan to rebuild the old Soviet Union through a Russian-dominated Eurasian customs union, was tempered by the refusal of Ukraine to also sign up to the agreement, leaving that country open to seek closer ties with its giant neighbour.
On the face of it, the choice between the Russian grouping and the European Union seems a no brainer. The EU has 500 million consumers and an economy six times the size of the Eurasian Union. As an example of the kind of support available in Europe, Brussels immediately offered Moldova’s 3.5 million citizens visa-free travel within the 28-nation bloc.
But there are other considerations for Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, to ponder.
An elected leader, Yanukovych’s constituency is based in the eastern part of the country where attachment to Russia and nostalgia for the old Soviet Empire is much greater than in the capital, Kiev. While paying lip service to the idea of a future with the EU, his actions have been more in keeping with an old-style Soviet Commissar, principally with the jailing of Yulia Tymoshenko, the opponent who he narrowly defeated in the 2010 poll.
Many observers believe Yanukovych hankers for an authoritarian style of administration less sensitive to the rule of law and human rights, and looks enviously at neighbouring Belarus where President Alexander Lukashenko rules as though the Soviet Union never ended.
However Ukraine is not yet Belarus and in 2015 Yanukovych must face an electorate clearly weary of rampant corruption, organised crime, cronyism and a security service that models itself and uses the same tactics as the original and much-feared KGB - a population that has taken to the streets of Kiev in strident protest at his Government’s failure to embrace the EU.
The demonstrators are backed by a recent public opinion poll showing that some 45 per cent of Ukrainians favour joining the EU against just 14 per cent who preferred the Eurasian Union.
Sadly, in Ukraine today pay-offs and political pressure from Moscow can have just as equal force as public opinion. How Yanukovych deals with the latter will be keenly observed in the lead-up to the country’s 2015 poll.