BRUSSELS, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday she could work with Ukrainian leaders on a possible association agreement.

Ashton said Monday from Brussels she felt Ukraine could address its short-term financial concerns and possibly move closer to the EU.

"My purpose in talking with President [Viktor] Yanukovych was to discover what the short-term economic issues are that have prevented him from signing [an association agreement]," she was quoted by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty as saying. "And I feel we can work with him to resolve those."

Protests erupted last month in Ukraine when the Yanukovych administration decided to suspend efforts to sign free trade and association agreements with the EU. He said the decision was made to protect Ukraine's economic ties to Russia.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by RFE/RL as saying from Brussels the Ukrainian government "should allow the people to make their free choice of how they want to develop their country and how they want to develop their state."

Ashton met last week with Ukrainian leaders. She said she had assurances the EU agreements were still on the table for Ukraine, a former Soviet republic.

Protests are ongoing in Ukraine. The government was criticized when police used force to break up demonstrations.

Click here for the full text of Catherine Ashton's remarks upon arrival at the Foreign Affairs Council earlier today.

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