The Russian government accused the West of helping foment unrest in Ukraine as the country’s opposition leaders sought outside help at a conference in Germany and vowed to continue anti-government protests.
Vitali Klitschko, the leader of the UDAR opposition party and a former heavyweight boxing champion, said demonstrators in Ukraine were “against the system” as he sparred on a panel at the Munich Security Conference with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara. Earlier, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Europeans were helping incite street violence.
“Why are many prominent European politicians actually encouraging such actions, while back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?” Lavrov said in remarks to the meeting. “Why don’t we have condemnation of those who seize and hold government buildings and burn and torch the police and use nasty and anti-Semitic slogans?”
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s attempts to reduce tension in the wake of deadly clashes with demonstrators last week, including Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s resignation, have failed to clear the streets. Protests erupted in November after the government scrapped closer ties with Europe in favor of a bailout arrangement with Russia.
Klitschko reiterated the opposition’s demands, including freeing political prisoners, overhauling the constitution and paving the way for early elections. He and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, head of the Batkivshchyna party, met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the conference in the Bavarian capital.
Kerry expressed his support and “encouraged the opposition to remain united and peaceful and to continue discussions with the government,” according to a senior State Department official who asked not to be named, citing policy.
Kozhara, Ukraine’s acting chief diplomat after the government resigned last week, said Yanukovych had met the demands of the protesters and renewed calls for talks. He said demonstrators didn’t represent the interests of all Ukrainians, citing the 8 million ethnic Russians among Ukraine’s 45 million people.
“Ukraine is not going to change her strategic course,” Kozhara told the panel. He denounced protesters for attacking the police and throwing Molotov cocktails. He compared many with Nazis, prompting Klitschko to present him with a photo album of the protests.
While Klitschko told Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, that international mediators “may be effective” as “guarantors” of agreements reached with the Ukrainian authorities, Yatsenyuk said that direct talks were a better tactic for now, according to the Interfax news service.
Demonstrators are braving temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit) and gusting winds in a makeshift tent city sprawled on Independence Square in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital. Tensions escalated as an anti-government activist was found yesterday after disappearing 10 days ago. Dmitri Bulatov said he’d been abducted and tortured before being thrown from a car near Kiev.
Yanukovych has been on sick leave since Jan. 30 with an “acute respiratory condition,” according to his website. The Defense Ministry urged him to “stabilize” the country, according to a statement. Ukraine’s territorial integrity is under “threat,” ministry officials said this week.
Russia agreed to lend Ukraine $15 billion and reduce the price for natural gas deliveries after Yanukovych rejected an EU integration pact in November. After buying $3 billion of Ukrainian bonds in December, Russia may withhold any further aid until a new cabinet is formed, Putin said Jan. 29.
Protest organizers say 26 people are unaccounted for since demonstrations began. The opposition says seven protesters have died -- three from gunshot wounds and one from exposure after being sprayed by a water cannon in freezing temperatures -- and 1,000 have been injured. Authorities have detained at least 116 people. (Bloomberg)