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 1:08 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
The possibility of pockets of air remaining within the hull of the sunken South Korean ferry offers hope to rescuers -- and relatives -- say experts.
updated 9:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Despite hundreds still missing after the sinking of a South Korean ferry, reports of text messages keep hope alive that there may be survivors yet.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
It's hard not to be nervous, standing outside the Ebola isolation wards.
updated 5:31 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Russia's propaganda worse now than at height of Cold War, says Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at AEI.
Sanctions imposed against Russia are working as a deterrent, President Barack Obama and other White House senior administration officials said.
updated 12:40 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
A lack of progress in the search for MH370 is angering the families of victims.
updated 5:16 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Officials are launching their next option: an underwater vehicle to scan the ocean floor.
updated 11:09 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The searches for the Titanic and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 share common techniques.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
updated 11:35 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
This year's Pyongyang marathon was open to foreign amateurs.
updated 8:30 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
updated 1:53 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
How are police preparing for this year's 26.2-mile marathon, which takes place Monday?
updated 1:02 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Katrina Karkazis
Romance is hard, for anyone. For people with intersex traits, love poses unique challenges.
updated 8:38 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Suisse's Belinda Bencic returns the ball to France's Alize Cornet during the second match of the Fed Cup first round tennis tie France vs Switzerland on February 8, 2014 at the Pierre de Coubertin stadium in Paris. AFP PHOTO / KENZO TRIBOUILLARD (Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images)
It's no easy matter becoming a world class tennis player. It's even harder when everyone (really -- everyone) is calling you the "new Martina Hingis".
updated 5:26 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
The "kill switch," a system for remotely disabling smartphones and wiping their data, will become standard in 2015.
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
ADVERTISEMENT