Pro-Europe Ukrainians raise protest pitch

December 08, 2013 - 7:04:47 am

Protesters prepare hot meals in an outddor kitchen on another day of protest at Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine, yesterday. 
KIEV: Pro-Europe protesters accused Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych yesterday of planning to seal a customs union with former Soviet master Moscow this month, a move that would stoke further turmoil in Kiev.

One opposition leader said returning to Moscow’s economic fold could even endanger the unity of Ukraine, a sprawling country of 46 million that borders four European Union member states and is the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe.

The Moscow and Kiev governments both denied Yanukovych and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had discussed the customs union in unannounced talks on Friday in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi.

But the secrecy of the meeting, and speculation they had struck a deal, was seized on by opposition leaders rallying protesters against a decision last month by Yanukovych to spurn a deal on trade ties and integration with the European Union.

“Any signature to a deal on forming a new Soviet Union means the breakup of the country,” Arseny Yatsenyuk, one of three main opposition leaders, told reporters.

Yatsenyuk, a former economy minister, accused Yanukovych of planning to sign Ukraine up to a regional Customs Union, led by Russia, at a meeting of the Russian and Ukrainian governments scheduled for December 17 in Moscow. Such a move would be sure to exacerbate public anger in Kiev over the government’s November 21 rejection of the EU accord, which has triggered protests on a scale not seen since Ukraine’s 2004-05 Orange Revolution.

The crisis has exposed a divide in Ukraine between those mainly in the west who seek to join the European mainstream and many in the east whose native language is Russian and who look to Moscow as a guarantor of stability.

Yesterday, the Russian and Ukrainian governments also denied reports that Putin and Yanukovych had also discussed in Sochi cheaper gas supplies and credits from Russia. “I categorically reject this speculation,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said, echoing a statement from Yanukovych’s office. Azarov said the talks had focussed on cooperation in industry, aviation and energy.

In Moscow, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “No final agreement has been reached. Talks on all these issues will be continued on the level of experts in the near future.”

Peskov confirmed the December 17 governmental meeting in Moscow. 

Faced with $17bn in gas bills and debt repayments next year, Ukraine is seeking to cut the price of gas it imports from Russia and possibly billions of dollars in credits to stave off a looming balance of 

payments crisis. 

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