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February 01, 2014

Top US Diplomat to Meet With Ukrainian Opposition Leaders

by Mike Richman

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry plans to meet with Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitaly Klitschko Saturday in Germany, on the sidelines of a security conference in Munich. This comes as embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych makes overtures to the opposition in hopes of ending the country's political crisis. 

President Yanukovych recently offered the post of prime minister to Yatsenyuk and that of deputy prime minister to Klitschko, a former world boxing champion.  Those offers were not accepted.

On Friday, Ukraine's president signed into law a bill granting conditional amnesty to anti-government protesters.  The opposition has rejected the measure.

In a stop in Berlin Friday, Kerry said such overtures have not been enough to resolve Ukraine's political crisis.  He said if the government presents a reform agenda offering "genuine participation," the opposition should consider embracing it.

The U.S. diplomat spoke to reporters alongside German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. 

"If you are able to secure genuine participation and a genuine ability to bring the country together, then we would urge them to engage in that because further standoff and further violence, or violence that becomes uncontrollable, is not in anybody's interest," he said.

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama also weighed in on the unrest in Ukraine in an online chat hosted by the web search engine Google.

"There has to be a way to restructure the Ukrainian government in a way that allows the voices of the opposition and those folks on the streets to be heard in preparation for some sort of democratic process that creates a government with greater legitimacy and unity," he said.

Ukrainians took to the streets in November when President Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union in favor of closer economic ties with Russia.  The protests have sparked deadly clashes between demonstrators and police.

"The people of Ukraine clearly are looking, clearly are looking to Europe and the West as a partner in a more free, more free market-based economy," said Obama.  "Obviously they also have strong historic ties to Russia, as well as a lot of commercial relationships with Russia, and those don't need to be sacrificed.  But what I think the people of Ukraine do not want to see - and this is evidenced by what's happened on the streets - is a situation where behind closed doors their aspirations for a more free society and one that's integrated with Europe more closely, that that's foreclosed.''

Yanukovych has accused opposition leaders of escalating the political crisis, and says the government has met its obligations to end it.  The opposition says he must still meet several key demands, including holding early elections.