US says Ukraine risks ‘chaos’ if protesters’ EU demands not met
Assistant secretary of state says there should be no doubt where US stands on issue
A woman addresses interior ministry personnel during a rally to support EU integration in Kiev yesterday. Photograph: Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
The United States has thrown unequivocal support behind anti-government protesters who have taken over the centre of the Ukrainian capital, as opposition leaders urged the west to impose sanctions on some of the country’s officials.
Thousands of people filled Kiev’s Independence Square again yesterday, and repeated calls for president Viktor Yanukovich and his government to resign over their rejection of a historic deal with the EU and in response to the brutal dispersal of protesters by riot police.
“What a moment this is for Ukraine . . .The whole world is watching . . .This is Ukraine’s moment to meet the aspirations of its people or to disappoint them, and risk descending into chaos and violence,” US assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland said in Kiev.
“There should be no doubt about where the United States stands on this. We stand with the people of Ukraine who see their future in Europe,” she told a meeting of senior ministers from the 57 states that comprise the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
“We urge the Ukrainian government to listen to the voices of its people who want to live in freedom, opportunity and prosperity,” Ms Nuland added.
She was expected to visit Independence Square last night, along with several other visiting officials including Paschal Donohoe, the Minister of State for European affairs. The protesters fear Mr Yanukovich is leading Ukraine back into Moscow’s grip, after rejecting a political and trade deal with the EU that was offered on the condition the government make major reforms and release jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said yesterday that the protests in Kiev and other cities were “linked with some Europeans’ hysteria, caused by Ukraine exercising its sovereign right not to sign an agreement that Ukrainian experts and authorities found unprofitable at this stage”.
Public anger towards Mr Yanukovich and his government soared after riot police set upon demonstrators last weekend, injuring scores of people, including many young students.
Opposition leader and world champion boxer Vitali Klitschko yesterday asked the EU and Washington to “refrain from official contacts and impose personal sanctions on those who gave illegal orders to use force against peaceful demonstrators.”
Ms Tymoshenko’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, quoted her as saying “targeted sanctions against Yanukovich and his family are the only language he understands”.
Government officials say they will hold talks with the opposition if protesters end their occupation of Kiev city hall and a trade union building near Independence Square. Kiev police chief Valery Mazan yesterday gave demonstrators five days to leave the buildings, warning that his forces would act “decisively and firmly” against them if necessary.