Pro-Europe protesters clash with police in Ukraine …Demonstrators demand president sign a key EU trade pact after government pulls out under Russian pressure
Clashes between protestors and police continued in Kiev on Wednesday as a crunch summit where Ukraine must decide whether or not to sign a trade deal with the EU loomed.
Thousands of protestors have taken to the streets of the capital after President Viktor Yanukovich’s government pulled out of plans to sign the long-awaited freed trade and association deal at the Eastern Partnership Summit that opens in Vilnius on Thursday.
About 1,500 students chanting “sign!” and “Ukraine is Europe!” marched from Kiev’s Independence Square to the presidential administration to deliver a written demand that he sign the deal. The protests came after Mr Yanukovich told Ukrainian television on that he still expects go to Vilnius on Friday, but hopes to sign a deal only when the time is right – meaning not this week.
Ukraine postponed signing the free trade and association deal for two years last week, saying it would allow differences with Russia over the issue to be resolved.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov admitted on Tuesday that the move followed a Russian suggestion for “three-way talks” between the EU, Russia, and Ukraine on the issue, sparking claims that Kiev had bowed to Kremlin pressure.
European countries have shown increasing impatience with Russia over what they have described as blackmail and bullying to prevent Ukraine from signing the deal.
“The problem is the policy of pressure and blackmail employed towards Ukraine by its eastern neighbour,” Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said in an interview in the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza on Wednesday, in the latest of a series of strongly worded statements from Brussels and individual European leaders.
“The Western world cannot agree to that,” Mr Komorowski went on. “Ukraine’s choice between East and West should be a sovereign choice.”
“We will work on a wise and decisive EU response to the Russian diktat on Ukraine,” he added.
The comments sparked immediate speculation in Russia that European diplomats are preparing an “anti Russian” resolution for the conference, with the state-owned ITAR-TASS news agency even citing an anonymous source in Brussels diplomatic circles who said leaders planned to condemn Russia’s “imperialistic pressure” on Ukraine. The report was denied by the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry.
Russia has openly opposed the free trade deal, which Ukraine pulled out of last week, saying that it could lead to Russia being flooded with cheap European goods that would cause irreparable damage to its domestic aviation, car-building and agriculture sectors.
“We are not ready to throw open our gates to European goods like that,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a press conference in Italy on Tuesday.