Skip to main content

Ukraine leader intends to sign EU deal, diplomat says

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian and Diana Magnay, CNN
updated 11:12 AM EST, Thu December 12, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • EU diplomat: Yanukovych "assured me ... he does intend to sign" deal on closer ties
  • Vladimir Putin hopes "all political forces ... will manage to come to an agreement"
  • Opposition dismisses Yanukovych's call for negotiations
  • Protesters remain in Kiev square, paralyze center of capital

(CNN) -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych intends to sign a deal on closer European Union ties, the bloc's top diplomat has said, after weeks of mass protests that have rattled the Eastern European country.

Ukrainian protesters, angry about the government's decision last month to spurn a free-trade agreement with the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Moscow, have stood their ground in Kiev's Independence Square, or Maidan, paralyzing the center of the capital.

They have remained there, undeterred by authorities' overnight crackdown early Wednesday in which police tore down barricades they had set up.

After meeting Yanukovych this week, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said he had assured her of his intent.

Ukraine: 'How did things get so bad?'
Russia gas reliance key in Ukraine
The economics of Ukraine protests

"He indicated he still wishes to sign the Association Agreement with the European Union," she told CNN in Kiev on Wednesday.

"From our perspective, we think that's good for this country. But the present crisis that's happening right now needs to be resolved."

A statement from the EU in Brussels, Belgium, on Thursday quoting Ashton echoed this: "The President has assured me when I've met him that he does intend to sign the Association Agreement."

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov traveled to Brussels on Thursday, where he met Stefan Fule, European commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, an EU spokesman in Kiev said.

In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin briefly touched on the situation in the Ukraine in his State of the Nation address to the Federal Assembly on Thursday.

"I very much hope that all political forces of the country will manage to come to an agreement in the interest of the Ukrainian people and solve all the piles of problems," he said.

Opposition dismisses talks

Pressed by Europe and the United States, Yanukovych on Wednesday offered to meet opposition leaders to find a way out of a crisis that blew up last month when thousands poured into the streets of the capital, demanding his resignation.

"I invite representatives of all political forces, priests, public figures to hold the nationwide dialogue," he said in a statement on the official presidency website.

The statement also called on the opposition not to "choose the path of confrontation and ultimatums."

However, opposition leaders have dismissed the offer of talks, insisting that Yanukovych must quit for favoring ties with Russia over the EU.

In a statement on her website, Yanukovych's jailed chief political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, urged Ukrainians to "stand up," and she repeated previous opposition calls for early elections.

U.S. 'disgust' at crackdown

Kiev's handling of the pro-EU protests has been met with stern responses from the European Union and United States.

Police moved into the main protest camp early Wednesday, using chainsaws to tear down the barriers, which had been manned by pro-Western demonstrators. Clashes led to reports of injuries on both sides.

"The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest in ... 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 prepared statement.

"This response is neither acceptable, nor does it befit a democracy."

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters Wednesday that "all options" were under consideration in Ukraine, including sanctions.

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply concerned" about the Ukraine government's decision to send in riot police against peaceful protesters.

Thousands of demonstrators have been camped out for days in Independence Square. They also continue to occupy Kiev's City Hall.

The scenes of protest are reminiscent of the uprising that swept Yanukovych from office as prime minister nine years ago during the Orange Revolution.

East vs. West

Ukraine is split between pro-European regions in the west of the country and a more Russia-oriented east.

Protesters say an EU agreement would open borders to trade and set the stage for modernization and inclusion. They accuse Yanukovych of preparing to take the country into a Moscow-led customs union.

Moscow has leverage that may have affected Yanukovych's decision last month to backpedal on the EU talks because Russia supplies Ukraine with natural gas.

The EU is also pressuring Yanukovych to free Tymoshenko, who has languished in jail for two years after being convicted of abuse of power in 2011. The EU and other critics decried the verdict as a sham.

The Orange Revolution that swept Yanukovych from office in 2004 also brought the pro-Western Tymoshenko to power.

At the rallies in Independence Square, protesters have carried her picture.

Read: Opinion: Why Ukraine's future lies with the EU, not Russia

Read: Opinion: The battle over Ukraine: Toward a new geopolitical game

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
ITN's Dan Rivers reports from the hospital where those injured by an attack in Gaza were being treated.
updated 2:08 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Flight attendants are wearing black ribbons to show solidarity with fallen colleagues in "a tribute to those who never made it home."
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Hamas: "Lift the siege." Israel: "End the rockets." The two sides' demands will be difficult to reconcile.
updated 4:04 AM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
When the Costa Concordia and its salvage convoy finally depart Giglio, the residents will breathe a sigh of relief -- and shed a tear.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue July 22, 2014
CNN's Richard Quest speaks to Malaysia Airlines' Hugh Dunleavy about how the airline industry needs to react to MH17.
updated 4:42 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
From Maastricht to Melbourne, and baroque theaters to block-long warehouses, these stores make bookish travelers look stylish.
updated 2:57 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
A nun, an AIDS researcher, an athlete and a family traveling on summer vacation. These were some of the victims aboard MH17.
updated 8:21 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Prince George isn't your average one year old. He started walking before he was one. Oh, and, he's going to be king -- of 16 countries.
updated 2:21 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
In an ambitious plan to upgrade urban India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi says he will build 100 "smart cities" across the country.
CNN joins the fight to end modern-day slavery by shining a spotlight on its horrors and highlighting success stories.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
After just one day of competition, a new sport has emerged at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow: snapping selfies with the Queen.
ADVERTISEMENT