MOSCOW (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin's spokesman hit back at the European Union on Tuesday, saying it was wrong to criticize Russia over Ukraine's decision to back away from a trade deal with the EU and draw closer to Moscow.
"In this case it is inappropriate to speak of any kind of pressure," Interfax news agency quoted Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, as saying in Russia's first public response to a strongly worded statement from EU leaders on Monday.
The remarks reflected tension between Russia and the EU over the shift by Ukraine, which abruptly halted preparations to sign up for the trade pact with the EU at a summit in Vilnius on Friday and said it would cultivate closer trade ties with Moscow.
Ukraine's decision followed months of Russian warnings that Moscow could impose punitive trade measures on its neighbor and hints that it could cut natural gas shipments.
In a statement on Monday, the EU's two most senior officials said they "strongly disapprove of the Russian position and actions in this respect."
Peskov said Putin had repeatedly stated Russia's position that it would welcome any decision by Ukraine, Interfax reported.
Russia wants Ukraine to bring into a Customs Union with other former Soviet republics. Moscow has also accused the EU of putting pressure on Kiev.
(Reporting by Jason Bush, Writing by Steve Gutterman, Editing by Timothy Heritage)