On Friday, Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko signed the historic trade and economic deal with the European Union that triggered the series of events that led to an armed standoff with separatists and the annexation of Crimea. Poroshenko called it "maybe the most important day for my country" since becoming independent from the Soviet Union more than 20 years ago.
This new deal will bring Ukraine closer to the rest of Europe and will surely anger Russian president Vladimir Putin. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin threatened Ukraine with "serious consequences" for signing the deal. Similar threats prompted former president Viktor Yanukovych to back out of signing the deal in November at the last minute.
The deal allows European Union countries to trade more easily with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. In return, products from those countries will now face fewer trade restrictions in the European Union, as long as they meet base E.U. standards. The deal is expected to raise Ukraine's national income by $1.6 billion.
After Yanukovych refused to sign the E.U. deal, bloody protests broke out across Ukraine that nearly crippled the country, and eventually brought on his downfall. Yanukovych fled to Russia, where he remains, and separatists flooded the Crimean Peninsula, leading to its annexation.
Peace negotiations between Moscow, Kiev, the separatists rebels and members of the E.U. are expected to continue Friday. The European Union has threatened Russia with further sanctions if the situation in Eastern Ukraine does not de-escalate soon. The U.N. released a report Friday estimating 110,000 people fled Ukraine for Russia this year and another 54,000 left their homes during the fighting in Eastern Ukraine. A ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and the separatists that both sides have allegedly violated expires Friday night.