KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's decision not to sign a deal strengthening ties with the European Union was motivated solely by economics and was "tactical", Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said on Friday.
Azarov told parliament that Thursday's move, coupled with renewing active dialogue with Russia, did not alter Ukraine's overall development strategy.
The former Soviet republic abruptly spurned an historic new alliance with its western neighbors on Thursday, suspending an imminent trade pact with the European Union and saying it would revive talks on a deal instead with Russia, its old Soviet master.
The decision came under fire from European leaders, the United States and Ukrainian opposition. Opposition leaders say the decision could be grounds for impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovich.
But today Azarov said the move was "the only possible" option.
"The decision to suspend signing the agreement with the EU was difficult but the only possible one in the current economic situation in Ukraine. This decision was dictated solely by economic reasons and is tactical," Azarov said.
He said that the government would focus its efforts on renewing trade relations with Russia, Ukraine's top trading partner and main supplier of gas.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Editing by Richard Balmforth and David Stamp)