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
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

Syrian Rebels Poised for Anti-Russia Collaboration

Forty-one insurgent groups issue joint statement vowing retaliation for Russian air offensives More

Political Maneuver Revives Export-Import Bank's Chances

Parliamentary tactic gets bill out of committee, but it faces opposition in the Senate More

Beijing Warns US on S. China Sea Patrols

Warning follows news reports Thursday that US military is planning to sail warships close to artificial islands Beijing has been aggressively building More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs