European Union leaders are opening a second day of meetings in Brussels with renewed calls for Ukraine to sign a deal establishing closer ties with the EU, despite the Ukrainian government's efforts to strengthen the relationship with Russia instead.
President Dalia Grybauskaite of Lithuania, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, said Friday that "Europe is open for Ukrainian people, but not necessarily for this government."
While pro-EU demonstrations continue in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities, President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday harshly criticized the West for supporting the protests, which are calling for his ouster. He announced plans to partially join a Moscow-led economic union - a move likely to deepen the country's political crisis.
Speaking in a televised interview with some hand-picked journalists, Yanukovych criticized foreign nations for meddling in Ukraine's internal affairs. The president said he is "categorically against others coming to our country and teaching us how to live." He ruled out early elections.
Yanukovych said opposition politicians need to "keep their own ambitions under control," after weeks of anti-government protests.
The Ukrainian leader also said his Cabinet is analyzing which parts of the Moscow-led customs union Ukraine should join.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Thursday that Russia's bailout of Ukraine's struggling economy was driven by a desire to help a partner in dire straits and was not linked to Kyiv's talks with the European Union.
Putin made the comments during an annual news conference, after weeks of political turmoil in Ukraine sparked by Kyiv's unexpected refusal to sign a key integration accord with the EU, opting instead to deepen ties with Russia, which opposed the EU deal.
Yanukovych, in his interview Thursday, said Ukraine had simply "taken a pause" to decide on "what conditions we are signing the free trade zone agreement" with the EU.
President Yanukovych says he will not run for re-election if his approval ratings remain low. According to recent opinion polls, he trails opposition leaders such as former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
Anti-government protests in Ukraine began a month ago and have grown into Ukraine's biggest political crisis in a decade.
The Ukrainian government, which has sought up to $20 billion in foreign assistance to prop up its struggling economy, has assured protesters it eventually plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union.