News / Europe

No Breakthrough in Ukraine Crisis Talks

Ukraine political, government, opposition and religious leaders hold a round-table meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine,  Dec. 13, 2013.
Ukraine political, government, opposition and religious leaders hold a round-table meeting in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 13, 2013.
Reuters
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych made few concessions on Friday in crisis talks with the opposition, his first direct attempt to defuse weeks of unrest over a policy swerve to Russia away from Europe.

The meeting came as protesters streamed into the capital from mainly western regions for a mass rally on Sunday, boosting thousands already camped out on Kiev's Independence Square, focal point of recent demonstrations.

Russia, in the meantime, pointedly demanded that the European Union keep out of Ukrainian affairs.
 
Yanukovych, yielding to calls from the international community, began round-table talks with the opposition to try to find a way out of the conflict which has put Ukraine at the center of an East-West tug-of-war.

But with the opposition insisting on core demands such as the dismissal of his government, the talks seemed unlikely to head off another outpouring of anger against him on Sunday.

"This round-table was simply a declaration and not a single step was made to meet the opposition. I have the impression that the authorities today did not listen to a single one of the demands of the opposition," said boxing champion-turned-opposition politician Vitaly Klitschko.

Despite talks in Brussels by his government aimed at securing financial aid from the EU for his near-bankrupt country, Yanukovych still appeared on course to go to Moscow on Dec. 17 to tie up a trade agreement which the opposition fears could slam the door on integration with Europe.

Highlighting the high geo-political stakes, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Friday said Ukraine must avoid a "tectonic split."

He said the appearance of EU politicians at Kiev protests was a "crude interference" in Ukraine's affairs - a clear reference to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and EU foreign ministers who have visited protest sites in recent weeks.

  • Pro-European Union activists shout as they listen to Ukranian opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok, during a rally in the Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • People pass by a barricade erected by pro-European integration protesters in central Kyiv, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • Pro-European Union musicians perform in Independence Square in Kyiv, Ukraine, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • People pick up food inside the Kyiv City Council building which is occupied by pro-European integration protesters, Dec. 13, 2013.
  • Pro-European Union activists warm themselves near a bonfire and guard barricades on the main street Khreschatyk in Kyiv, Dec. 12, 2013.
  • Interior Ministry personnel block a street in central Kyiv, Dec. 12, 2013.
  • Pro-European integration protesters warm themselves by a fire in Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 12, 2013.
  • Tents and belongings of pro-European integration protesters are seen near Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 11, 2013.
  • Riot police pull pro-European Union activists out from their camp in Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 11, 2013.
  • Pro-European integration protesters standing behind barricades confront a line of riot police approaching at Independence Square in Kyiv, Dec. 11, 2013.
  • Pro-European integration protesters line up in front of riot police in Kyiv, Dec. 11, 2013.
  • Riot police leave a bus after protesters threw a smoke bomb, outside City Hall in Kyiv, Dec. 11, 2013.

The national currency, the hryvnia, tumbled 0.4 percent on Friday to 8.31 to the dollar - its lowest level since 2009 - as the anti-government protests continued to jangle market nerves.

The round-table talks represented the first direct encounter any of the three opposition leaders have had with Yanukovich in months of crisis around his policy towards Europe.

This came to a head on Nov. 21 when his government suddenly backed off a landmark trade-and-political agreement with the European Union after years of preparation and announced it was reviving trade relations instead with former overseer Moscow.

Since then the capital has been roiled by sometimes harshly handled pro-Europe rallies, involving hundreds of thousands of people at the weekends, who accuse Yanukovich of turning the clock back and selling out national interests to the Kremlin.

The opposition leaders indicated they would insist that Yanukovich meet their core demands which include the dismissal of the government and early elections.

"We will pass on to him (Yanukovich) your demands. We will fight for our common victory," said Arseny Yatsenyuk, a former economy minister, told crowds on Kiev's Independence Square which is known colloquially as the 'maidan'.

The two other opposition leaders, Klitschko and far-right nationalist Oleh Tyahnybok, stood alongside him as he spoke.

Police heavy-handedness

In remarks to the round-table y sought to take a neutral stance in the conflict which has involved police heavy-handedness against peaceful protesters that has drawn condemnation from the international community.

"Any instability negatively influences not only the image of the country but the life of people, the stability of the economy which is very unsteady," he said. "I am outraged by the radical acts which have taken place on the 'maidan', as much as from 'provocateurs' as from the security bodies which did not behave correctly."

He defended his policy shift, repeating that Ukraine's economic ills could not be cured without "restoration of normal trade relations with Russia."

In a gesture of appeasement, Yanukovych said he would propose an amnesty for those detained at recent mass street protests - but he made no indication of offering up Prime Minister Mykola Azarov as demanded by the opposition.

Yatsenyuk, speaking to the round-table, was insistent on Azarov's dismissal and that of the interior minister who is held responsible by the protesters for excessive force by police.

"Those who gave the criminal orders and those who carried them out must bear responsibility so that the whole country can see that no-one can lay a hand on peaceful people ... This government personally carries responsibility for the political and economic crisis," he said.

Barring a startling concession by Yanukovych - which seems improbable - Friday's round-table seemed unlikely to stop another mass display of street anger on Sunday.

The protests began as pro-Europe demonstrations but have now morphed into a broader protest against perceived corruption and sleaze in the country Yanukovich has led for nearly four years.

Demonstrators have rebuilt barricades, torn down by police, using public benches, metal barriers and wire-netting to fence off Independence Square, epicenter of Sunday's planned rally.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: MikeBarnett from: USA
December 16, 2013 3:40 PM
The problem is that the EU's economy remains sluggish, and it continues to push austerity when Ukraine needs loans. Russia has the world's biggest oil and gas station in Siberia sitting next door to the world's biggest car market, China. Russia can make the loans that Ukraine needs without imposing austerity on the country. Also, a new rail link through Russia and Kazakhstan will make it easier to sell Ukrainian food to China. Further, loans from Russia do not require Ukraine to change its government or become a province of Russia. When the EU recovers economically, it may be possible to negotiate a free trade agreement with Ukraine and one with Russia. It is not necessary to insist on competing spheres of influence.


by: Peter Haas from: New Oxford PA
December 14, 2013 4:36 PM
I fear that Russia will use this crisis as an excuse to do what they did in Georgia to seize the Crimea which they have long coveted.

In Response

by: Kevin Graham from: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
December 14, 2013 8:32 PM
The crisis in the Ukraine goes back to the Stalin days in Russia, then to the Hitler days in Germany, and then to the Soviet Union days. Empathy is what I feel for the people of Ukraine, they always seem to be in a perpetual state of occupation. They are an independent people who simply want political independence for their nation. Economic sovereignt issues always seems to be decided elsewhere on their behalf. The reason they have always been sought after politically is the oil fields with the Ukraine. We are all living in a globalizing world, more and more:- I believe they just want to be part of this global economic development, but they always seem to be in the middle between East and West which is reminesent of the Cold War era, then it is of the new emerging globalizing world economically/

Best Regards
Kevin Graham


by: observer48 from: Canada
December 13, 2013 4:11 PM
As one of US journalists said a few days ago on the Public TV Channel "The round table doesn't fit into Yulia Tymoshenko's square jail cell".

Yanukovych is playing for time as always,and shouldn't be given any breathing space at all. He's already a political corpse dead in the water with zero credibility, so he cannot be trusted by any party at any negotiating table.

In Response

by: Anonymous
December 14, 2013 3:05 AM
Whdo


by: D from: U
December 13, 2013 2:38 PM
Think about what you are doing. Ukraine is not Russia. Ukraine is not Europe. But this free trade agreement will destroy western industry in Ukraine, leave millions jobless and drive even more to leave to Europe. Restoring ties with Russia can stableize the insanity that is the Ukrainian budget short-term.

In Response

by: Sergei L. from: Ukraine
December 13, 2013 3:09 PM
i wish that was true... but it isn't. we were starved to death under Russia, we were frozen to death in the hundred of thousands by Russia - women and children - the West said nothing... Russia is a brutal dictatorship. it is a mafia state. the judiciary is an arm of the politicians in Russia. Look what they did to Greenpeace... its all about bribery and brutality... guess where Greenpeace will never protest again...!!! you can not be Ukrainian and not know what Russia has done to us... we are sick and tired of this filth. All my friends are looking for asylum in US or Israel... Russia has destroyed us... demographics is everything.


by: Marlena Ermtraud from: USA
December 13, 2013 1:19 PM
I am sorry to say to our friends in Ukraine that any comparison between the Ukraine and Israel will not work... Israel is in our souls... Israel is how we like to imagine ourselves. brave little nation set against the billions of Arab barbaric Muslim hordes... Ukraine, on the other hand is some remote desolation... don't get me wrong, we would love for Ukraine to assert its freedom from Russia... but comparing your predicament to that of Israel - seems to me to push the envelop a bit...


by: A. B. from: Ukraine
December 13, 2013 12:25 PM
to all our American friends, thank you for your support. now, don't believe what you read here. Ukraine is divided into Russians and Ukrainians. East and West. the best way to illustrate what is going on here would be to use your beloved country Israel as an example. Israel, despite the lack of natural resources is rich... Ukraine is also very rich... I know you were told that we are very poor but don't believe it. of course there is a difference - Israel is rich in brain and we are rich in materials.

Now, just like the Arabs who came into Israel to look for honest work and honest pay... and were promised by their respective government for the spoils of the plunder of Israel... the Russians were given incentives by their deplorable brutal regime to come here and subvert our government to our detriment. like a spreading cancer (Arabs) in our midst. so, many of the "Ukrainians" you hear about who are asking for conciliation and appeasement to our "government" are really Russians... do not trust what they say... please. The real Ukrainians concentrated in the West of the country - we do not want anything to do with Russia. We are Europeans.

In Response

by: Alfredo from: Los Angeles ca
December 13, 2013 12:57 PM
We are with you and pray for you so that you may rid your country of that Putin

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