The EU must offer Ukraine the prospect of full membership than to exile it from the European mainstream along with nations in North Africa and the Middle East, the country`s envoy to Brussels said Wednesday, according to AP.

      "We are not neighbors of Europe, we are part of Europe," said ambassador Roman Shpek, head of the Ukrainian mission at the EU. "For us, it is not pleasant to be in the same basket as Morocco, Libya or Israel," he said ahead of Friday`s EU-Ukraine summit.

      Shpek also rejected suggestions that a gas deal signed with Russia on Tuesday would give Moscow a say on Ukraine`s aspirations to join the World Trade Organization in the coming months.

      "Next year Ukraine will become a full member of the WTO," Shpek told reporters. "Russians they have their own agenda and for us it`s not the issue to compete with Russia."

      Ukraine`s President Viktor Yushchenko will meet European Union leaders in Helsinki, Finland, for the annual EU-Ukraine summit. The talks are expected to launch negotiations on a new economic and political cooperation agreement.

      The Ukrainians hope that will include the prospect of eventual membership. The EU is noncommittal, reflecting growing wariness about expanding the bloc which admitted 10 new countries in 2004, is about to take in Romania and Bulgaria and is engaged in negotiations with Croatia and Turkey.

      Shpek insisted under the treaty which underpins the Union, the EU must keep its doors open to European nations that share its values of democracy, human rights and free market economy.

      "You cannot change values," Shpek said. "European politicians should recognize that Ukraine has the same rights as all European states."

      So far, the EU has refused to grant Ukraine a "membership perspective," including the former Soviet republic in its "neighborhood policy" along with Belarus, Israel, the south Caucasus countries and several Arab nations around the Mediterranean Sea.

      Governments from the 25 EU nations are currently mulling a proposal from the European Commission to open negotiations on a new cooperation agreement to deepen relations with Ukraine by setting up a free trade zone, strengthening diplomatic ties and boosting collaboration in areas such as energy, justice, nuclear safety, and environment protection.

      Meanwhile, the two sides are expected to sign agreements on the margin of Friday`s summit to make it easier for Ukrainians to travel, work and study in the EU and to increase cooperation in customs and border control, Shpek said at a meeting hosted by the EU Ukraine Business Council.

      The private business group said the summit should adopt five priorities for boosting economic ties: open EU markets to Ukrainian goods; fight corruption and tighten protection of property rights in Ukraine; advance private-public partnerships in energy, transport and telecoms; hasten Ukraine`s WTO membership plans; and promote energy efficiency.

      "We would like to see an enhanced agreement for Ukraine that recognizes the reality that Ukraine is a European market that offers outstanding business potential," said James Wilson, the council`s director.