PRESIDENT Vladimir Putin's spokesman has hit back at the EU, saying it was wrong to criticise Russia over Ukraine's decision to back away from a trade deal and draw closer to Moscow.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "In this case it is inappropriate to speak of any kind of pressure," referring to claims Russia had put pressure on Ukraine turn away from the west.

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 neighbour and hints it could cut natural gas shipments.

On Monday, the EU's two most senior officials angered Moscow when they said they "strongly disapprove of the Russian position and actions in this respect".

Mr Peskov said Mr Putin had repeatedly stated Russia's position that it would welcome any decision by Ukraine.

Russia wants Ukraine to join a Customs Union with other former Soviet republics and Moscow has accused the EU of putting pressure on Kiev.