Ukraine’s leader denounces western meddling and defends Russian bailout
Kremlin says Ukraine deal is simply help for a ‘brotherly people’
Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovich: “I’m absolutely against someone coming here and teaching us how to live.” Photograph: Mykhailo Markiv/Reuters
Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich has told the west to stop meddling in his country’s affairs, and urged opponents to abandon street protests and wait for their chance to oust him in elections.
He also insisted that a bailout received from Russia this week did not come with any secret strings attached, and that Ukraine was still interested in a trade deal with the European Union once the terms of the deal were right for Kiev.
Mr Yanukovich’s decision last month to postpone a historic agreement with the EU, which could have sharply decreased Moscow’s influence over Ukraine, triggered major street protests in Kiev and western Ukraine from people who suspect him of favouring closer links with Russia.
The demonstrations, centred on Kiev’s Independence Square, or Maidan, quickly became a source of tension between the Kremlin and western capitals, as senior EU and US officials visited the protesters and supported their calls for Ukraine to turn its back on Russia.
“It’s very important that other countries don’t interfere in our internal affairs. And that they don’t think they can act like bosses wherever they like, on the Maidan or elsewhere. I’m absolutely against someone coming here and teaching us how to live,” Mr Yanukovich said yesterday. Opposition leaders accuse him of “selling out” Ukraine to Moscow when he signed a deal for a $15 billion (€11 billion) loan and cheaper gas from Russia. They believe a secret agreement was made to hand over Ukrainian strategic assets to Russia, or for the country to ultimately join a Kremlin-led customs union of ex-Soviet states.
Mr Yanukovich and Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin insist the agreement is not linked to Ukraine rejecting closer EU ties and entering the customs union. “If we really say that this is a brotherly people and a brotherly country then we must act like close relatives and help the Ukrainian people in this difficult situation,” Mr Putin said yesterday.
Mr Yanukovich said Ukraine was a “strategic partner” of the customs union and that Kiev was looking at the possibility of signing up to some of the agreements between its current members, Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
It is not clear if this would prevent Ukraine from signing the EU’s free trade agreement, which is incompatible with membership of the customs union.
Ukraine wants its citizens to be granted visa-free travel to the EU, and Mr Yanukovich said “a positive decision” on the EU deal would be taken “when conditions suit us”.