News / Europe

Despite Protests, Ukraine's President Meets Putin on Pact

  • Ukrainian police officers stand in line during protests in Kyiv, Dec. 6, 2013. 
  • Kyiv's City Hall is now an organizational hub for protesters who have occupied the building, Dec. 6, 2013.
  • Protesters rest inside Kyiv's City Hall building, Dec. 6, 2013.
  • Supporters of Ukrainian EU integration sing and wave flags during a protest in front of the Ukrainian cabinet of ministers building in Kyiv,  Dec. 6, 2013. 
  • Protesters eat at their tent camp in Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 5, 2013.
  • Protesters drum on empty barrels as they rally in front of a government building in Kyiv, Dec. 5, 2013.
  • A man wrapped in a Ukrainian flag distributes tea to protesters at Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 4, 2013.
  • A man carrying a Ukrainian flag gestures as he stands on top of a bridge overlooking Independence Square, Kyiv, Dec. 4, 2013.
  • Protesters clash with police during a demonstration in support of EU integration in Kyiv, Dec. 3, 2013.
  • Police stand guard over protesters in front of parliament during a demonstration in support of EU integration, Dec. 3, 2013.
Protests in Kyiv
Reuters
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich met Russia's Vladimir Putin on Friday to lay the grounds for a new “strategic partnership” to shore up Ukraine's creaking economy in defiance of protesters back home enraged by his U-turn away from Europe.
 
The leaders met in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in Russia, after Yanukovich flew in for an unannounced stop on his way back from China to map out a new agreement on trade and economic cooperation, a statement on Yanukovich's official website said.
 
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told journalists Yanukovich would visit Moscow at some point in the future and sign a large number of documents. “We are talking about a major agreement here,” Azarov said though he gave no precise details of the outline deal.
 
Yanukovich faces turmoil in Kyiv, where protesters are massed on Independence Square and others occupy City Hall, furious at Yanukovich for walking away last month from a landmark pact on trade and integration with the European Union. Police have threatened to crack down harshly to enforce a court order that they disperse.
 
Ukraine needs help to meet $17 billion in debt repayments and Russian gas bills next year.
 
Analysts say Yanukovich's government appears to have struck a bargain with Putin, including for supplies of cheaper Russian gas and possibly credits, in exchange for backing away from the EU deal which would have heralded a historic shift westwards.
 
But the Sochi talks will lend ammunition to the Ukrainian opposition, which accuses Yanukovich of betraying the national interest by turning the clock back and forging closer economic ties with Ukraine's old Soviet master.
 
The stand-off is taking a toll on the fragile economy. The central bank has twice been forced to support the hryvnia currency this week and the cost of insuring Ukraine's debt against default has risen further.
 
Ukraine's dwindling currency reserves have particularly sparked alarm among investors. Intervention to support the hryvnia, repayments to the IMF and on treasury bills pushed these reserves further down by nine percent in November to $18.8 billion, the central bank said on Friday - less than that needed to cover two and a half months of imports.
 
Former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk, one of the opposition leaders, warned of even bigger protests if Yanukovich signed any agreement with Putin on the Russian-led customs union which Moscow wants Ukraine to join.
 
“If Yanukovich tries to sign anything with Russia about the customs union it will lead to a bigger wave of protests,” Yatsenyuk told journalists.
 
In Kyiv, several hundred demonstrators manned a protest camp on Independence Square as the opposition pressed for the resignation of the government, the release of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko and the prosecution of the interior minister for being behind an earlier crackdown on protesters.
 
Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevgenia, told reporters her mother had ended a 12-day hunger strike, launched in solidarity with the protesters, at the behest “of the square”.
 
Opposition leaders, also including world heavweight boxing champion-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, urged people to turn out for another rally in central Kyiv on Sunday.
 
Default risk
 
A separate, smaller, group of protesters milled around in the corridors and staircases of City Hall on Friday despite the strongly worded threat from police to eject them.
 
“We have an evacuation plan,” said a 30-year-old trader, who was part of the protesters' security staff and gave his name only as Igor. “If they come at us, we will be able to hold them long enough to be able to get the women, children and the weakest men out of the building,” he said.
 
“We won't let them take the building back. We will resist to the end. We are not hindering anyone. The employees here are working normally,” added a 22-year-old Kyiv student, also called Igor.
 
Klitschko, who seems to be emerging as an agreed opposition candidate to take on Yanukovich in an election in 2015, warned authorities that any attempt to clear the large crowds from Independence Square would lead to a country-wide revolt.
 
“If the authorities try to disperse people from the [Independence] Square, then you will see rising up not 100,000 or 500,000 Ukrainians but the whole country,” he declared in a statement on his party's website.
 
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, angered at Kyiv's Nov. 21 decision to abandon the deal with the EU, poured on to the streets last Sunday after many people - a lot of them young students - were hurt in police action.
 
Though the government later apologized, Azarov returned to the attack on Thursday, labeling those holding public buildings like the mayor's office “nazis, extremists and criminals.”
 
He has rejected calls for his dismissal and an opposition call for early elections. His first deputy, Serhiy Arbuzov, who appeared to say on Thursday he supported snap elections, denied this on Friday, saying his words had been “twisted”.
 
The Ukrainian state and companies will struggle to repay the $7 billion of debt maturing next year, while doubts are growing as to how long the central bank's meager reserves can stave off a currency collapse.
 
“We think that default risk is being seriously under-estimated,” Timothy Ash, the head of emerging markets strategy at Standard Bank, said in a note to clients.
 
The International Monetary Fund has suspended negotiations with Ukraine for a new bail-out program, leaving the government to hunt for economic relief elsewhere.
 
The crisis has exposed a gulf between Ukrainians, many from the West of the country, who hope to move rapidly into the European mainstream, and those mainly from the East who look to  Moscow as a guarantor of stability.
 
In the city of Kharkiv, a court hearing in a new prosecution against Tymoshenko - whom many demonstrators regard as their leader - was put off again because of her non-attendance due to back trouble.
 
The EU considers Tymoshenko, the peasant-braided politician who co-led the “Orange Revolution” protests of 2004-5, a political prisoner and campaigned in vain for her release before Kyiv broke off negotiations.

You May Like

Nigeria Incumbent in Tight Spot as Poll Nears

Muhammadu Buhari is running a strong challenge to Goodluck Jonathan, amid a faltering economy and Boko Haram security worries More

Video Liberia's Almost-Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo tells VOA that despite her fame, life is still a struggle as she waits for government's promise of support to arrive More

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

At least seven different indigenous groups in Ratanakiri depend mainly on forest products for their survival, say they face loss of their land, traditional way of life More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grievingi
X
Benno Muchler
March 26, 2015 3:41 PM
Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Liberia's Almost Last Ebola Patient Grateful but Still Grieving

Beatrice Yardolo was to make history as Liberia’s last Ebola patient. Liberians recently started counting down 42 days, the period that has to go by without a single new infection until the World Health Organization can declare a country Ebola-free. That countdown stopped on March 20 when there was another new case of Ebola, making Yardolo’s story a reminder that Ebola is far from over. Benno Muchler reports from Monrovia.
Video

Video Cambodian Land Grabs Threaten Traditional Communities

Indigenous communities in Cambodia's Ratanakiri province say the government’s economic land concession policy is taking away their land and traditional way of life, making many fear that their identity will soon be lost. Local authorities, though, have denied this is the case. VOA's Say Mony went to investigate and filed this report, narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video US, South Korea Conduct Joint Military Exercises

The Eighth U.S. Army Division and the Eighth Republic of Korea Mechanized Infantry Division put on a well orchestrated show of force for the media this week during their joint military training exercises in South Korea. VOA’s Seoul correspondent Brian Padden was there and reports the soldiers were well disciplined both in conducting a complex live fire exercise and in staying on message with the press.
Video

Video Space Program Status Disappoints 'Last Man on the Moon'

One of the films that drew big crowds last week at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, tells the story of the last human being to stand on the moon, U.S. astronaut Eugene Cernan. It has been 42 years since Cernan returned from the moon and he laments that no one else has gone there since. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Young Filmmakers Shine Spotlight on Giving Back

A group of student filmmakers from across the United States joined President Barack Obama at the White House this month for the second annual White House Student Film Festival. Fifteen short films were officially selected from more than 1,500 entries by students aged 6 through 18. The filmmakers and their families then joined the president and a group of celebrities for a screening of their films. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video VOA Exclusive: Interview with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, during his first visit as president to Washington, gave a one-on-one interview with VOA Afghan Service reporter Said Suleiman Ashna, about his request for a change in U.S. troop levels, the threat from the Islamic State, and repairing relations with the United States and Pakistan. The interview was held at Blair House, late Sunday, in Pashto.
Video

Video California Science Center Tells Story of Dead Sea Scrolls

The ancient manuscripts were uncovered in the mid-20th century, and they are still yielding clues about life and religious beliefs in ancient Israel. As VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports, an exhibit in Los Angeles shows how modern science is bringing the history of these ancient documents to life.
Video

Video Angelina Jolie Takes Another Bold Step

Hollywood actress and filmmaker Angelina Jolie has revealed she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to lower her odds of getting cancer. Doctors say the huge publicity over her decision will help raise awareness about the importance of cancer screening. VOA’s George Putic has more

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More