Ukrainian riot police withdraw from protest camp in Kiev
Columns of police abandon positions earlier occupied by demonstrators
Some protesters held mobile phones in the air like candles and sang the national anthem, while church bells rang out from a cathedral about 2km away, as in times of danger centuries ago.
“He is spitting in the faces of the United States, 28 countries of Europe, 46 million Ukrainians,” another opposition leader, Arseny Yatsenyuk, said of Yanukovich overnight. “We will not forgive him this. Tomorrow there will be a million people here and his regime will fall.”
The eventual police withdrawal was greeted with euphoria.
“We are seeing that truth does exist, that it is worth fighting for. It is a small victory, but these small victories will lead to big victories,” said protester Serhiy Chorny.
The crisis has added to the financial hardship of a country on the brink of bankruptcy. The cost of insuring Ukraine’s debt against default initially rose 30 basis points, before falling back after the police withdrew from the streets. It now costs more than $1 million a year for five years to insure $10 million in Ukrainian debt over that term, reflecting high default risk.
European leaders say the trade pact with Ukraine would have brought investment. But the country’s Soviet-era industry relies on Russian natural gas, giving Moscow enormous leverage.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said today he had told European leaders they would need to provide Kiev with €20 billion in aid for Ukraine to sign the stalled pact with Brussels. He promised that a meeting with Russian officials set for Dec 17 would not include talks on joining a Moscow-dominated customs union, a main fear of the opposition.
Western countries spoke out strongly against use of force.
“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in Kiev’s Maidan Square with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement. “This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland were both in Kiev, part of an agressive diplomatic campaign to lure Ukraine back westwards.
Nuland met the protesters and Yanukovich today. After two hours of talks with the president, she said she had complained to him about tactics that were “absolutely impermissable” in a democratic society.
There were clear signs that the authorities were reluctant to order bloodshed on the square. Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko issued a statement calling for calm.
“I want everyone to calm down. There will be no storming of the square. No one will violate your rights to protest peacefully, but do not ignore the rights . . . of other citizens.”
The EU’s Ashton, who met Yanukovich for more than three hours yesterday and was due to meet him again today, said in a statement: “I observe with sadness that police use force to remove peaceful people from the centre of Kiev. The authorities did not need to act under cover of night to engage with society by using police.”