Ukraine's parliament deadlocked as Russia freezes aid

Protesters’ new “national guard” immediately banned

Anti-government protesters rest at a barricade at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters

Anti-government protesters rest at a barricade at the site of clashes with riot police in Kiev on Wednesday. Photograph: Reuters


Ukraine’s parliament was deadlocked last night over a key measure to ease the country’s crisis, as Russia suspended its bailout to Kiev due to uncertainty over its future path.

The opposition wants an immediate amnesty for all people arrested during two months of rallies. The ruling Regions Party, loyal to Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich, demands that street protests end first. Regions Party deputies said Mr Yanukovich had requested consultations with them to discuss the Bill, while some opposition politicians vowed to remain in parliament until a vote was held.

Ukraine’s government resigned and sweeping anti-protest laws have been revoked as rallies that began in Kiev and pro-opposition western Ukraine spread to areas traditionally loyal to Mr Yanukovich. The opposition accuses police of killing six people during sometimes violent protests. The police claim activists have murdered two officers.

Emergency loan
Protests began in late November when Mr Yanukovich abruptly rejected a political and trade pact with the EU, and chose instead to repair relations with Russia and accept cheaper gas and a $15 billion (€11 billion) emergency loan from Moscow. The deal – which helped save Ukraine’s economy from immediate collapse – was widely seen as a Kremlin reward for shunning the West.

Russia’s financial lifeline to Kiev appears to be fraying, however. Just hours after Russian president Vladimir Putin said the deal would stand regardless of who ran Ukraine, his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, suggested waiting until “we understand what sort of government there will be, who will be working in it and what rules they will stick to”.

“Even under the lower [gas] price they are telling us that they can’t pay. This really changes the situation,” Mr Medvedev said.

Mr Putin replied: “That’s sensible. Let’s wait for the new Ukrainian government to be formed.”

According to trade organisations, Russia has also reimposed the tough border checks on Ukrainian imports that it used last summer to put pressure on Kiev. Moscow denies using unfair measures, and accuses the EU and US of meddling in Ukraine’s affairs and encouraging protests.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton held talks with Mr Yanukovich yesterday.

Analysts say Mr Putin’s options regarding Ukraine are restricted, however, by his desire to avoid negative international coverage during Russia’s Winter Olympics, a pet Kremlin project that starts next week.

Local administration buildings in at least 10 of Ukraine’s 25 regions are controlled by anti-government demonstrators and “people’s councils” are in effect running several cities.

Mr Yanukovich still appears to enjoy support in more pro-Russian southern and eastern Ukraine. Former Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk told parliament yesterday that “what is happening is revolution”.

Vadim Kolesnichenko, a Regions Party deputy, said making Ukraine a federation might ease tension between its provinces and drag it back from “the brink of civil war, the brink of a split in the country”.

So-called self-defence groups in the main protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square yesterday formed a “national guard”, which the interior ministry immediately declared illegal. The justice ministry, meanwhile, denounced several western provinces for banning the Regions Party and the Communists, and pro-government Crimea for outlawing the far-right Svoboda party.