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Russia: Ukraine Aid Given Out of 'Brotherly Love'

Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia is providing a financial bailout for Ukraine out of "brotherly love," not for any political gain or to tear Ukraine away from a proposed trade deal with the European Union.

Mr. Putin made the comment during an annual news conference, after weeks of political turmoil in Ukraine sparked by President Viktor Yanukovich's refusal to sign a trade pact with the EU.

On Wednesday Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said his country's new bailout deal will allow Ukraine to revitalize its economy and avoid collapse. Meanwhile, pro-European Union demonstrations continued in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities.

Mr. Putin has promised to reduce the price of natural gas exports to Ukraine by a third and lend it $15 billion.

Opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko greeted news with skepticism Tuesday, telling supporters that Mr. Yanukovych had handed over Ukraine's national interests, independence and every Ukrainian's prospects for a better life.

Anti-government protests in Ukraine began a month ago. This is Ukraine's biggest political crisis in a decade.

Klitschko said the Ukrainian people have the right to know what Mr. Yanukovych promised the Kremlin in return for the financial assistance, and called for early elections, saying he was personally challenging the Ukrainian president. Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing champion, has announced he is leaving the sport to run for president in 2015.

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney has said the deal between Kyiv and Moscow for Russian financial aid will not address the concerns of the tens of thousands of Ukrainians protesting Mr. Yanukovych's decision to abandon the agreement with the EU.

The Ukrainian government, which has sought up to $20 billion in foreign assistance to prop up its struggling economy, has assured the demonstrators that eventually it planned to sign an association agreement with the European Union.

A poll by Ukraine's non-governmental Research and Branding group released earlier this month shows 46 percent of Ukrainians favoring the EU trade pact. Thirty-six percent were shown favoring a rival trade bloc of former Soviet republics and satellite countries that is being pushed by Moscow.

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