Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich is set to head to China today (3 December), leaving a country plunged into crisis by his decision to forego a free trade deal with the EU under pressure from Russia. After China, Yanukovich will travel to Russia, his prime minister confirmed.
The Ukrainian government announced on 21 November that it had decided to stop its preparations to sign an Association Agreement (AA) with the EU.
The statement made it clear that the decision was taken with a view to elaborating measures towards “Russia and other countries from the Community of Independent States”.
Ukraine said it would propose to the EU and Russia the formation of “a tripartite commission to handle complex issues”.
A last-ditch attempt on 29 November by EU leaders to convince Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich to sign the AA failed. Dalia Grybauskaitė, the Lithuanian President and summit host, said Yanukovich arrived in Vilnius without any intention to reach an agreement.
Following the news that Yanukovich failed to sign AA, hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians took to the streets, demanding his resignation. [read more]
With pro-Europe demonstrators blockading the government's main building in Kiev, their allies in parliament called for a vote of no confidence in the cabinet on Tuesday over what they say is a lurch back towards Soviet-style rule from Moscow.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the government could not perform its basic functions which could affect the payment of pensions and salaries.
Azarov speaks of ‘coup d’état’, Putin of ‘pogrom’
"This has all the signs of a coup d’état. This is a very serious matter," Interfax news agency quoted him telling the ambassadors of the European Union, United States and Canada.
A similar view was expressed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on a visit to Armenia. Putin said the Ukraine events looked to him more as a ‘pogrom’ that a revolution, hinting that the EU and the USA instigated the protests.
Azerov accused his opponents of planning to seize parliament, but the opposition said it was just planning to picket deputies before the debate.
"Some will picket outside of the cabinet of ministers, others will picket outside parliament, and we are voting for the resignation of the criminal government of Azarov," far-right nationalist leader Oleh Tyahnybok said on Interfax news agency.
Even if the vote were to go ahead, it was unlikely to muster enough support to pass since the opposition parties have far fewer deputies than the 226 needed.
In Kiev's Independence Square protesters, set up tented camps in preparation for a long campaign against Yanukovich's last-minute decision to reject the free trade deal, which had been due to be signed on Friday.
The security forces clashed with protesters over the weekend, but the area around parliament was quiet on Monday evening and activists from heavyweight boxing champion-turned- opposition-politician Vitaly Klitschko's party Udar (Punch) said they planned to send only a few people there on Tuesday.
On Monday, demonstrators halted traffic and called a general strike, seeking to force Yanukovich from office after about 35,000 people demonstrated at the weekend, the most since the pro-democracy "Orange Revolution" of nine years ago.
Ukraine's currency and bonds came under pressure, along with share prices, and the central bank was forced to assure people their savings were safe.
The United States said violence by the authorities against protesters on Saturday was unacceptable that reports of media representatives being targeted were "disturbing".
With temperatures dropping well below zero, the numbers of protesters have dropped sharply, and Yanukovich clearly felt the security situation was under control when he announced he would stick to a plan to travel on Tuesday to China, from which he is seeking loans and investment to avert a debt crisis.
The security forces report to the interior minister, who is a loyal lieutenant of Yanukovich and a close friend of his son.
But some felt leaving was unwise nevertheless.
"It is a very bad time to go abroad. The president's absence may make talks with the opposition much more difficult," said Ukrainian political analyst Gleb Vyshlinsky.
Russia wants to draw Ukraine into a Moscow-led customs union and prevent it drawing closer to the EU, a move that would signal a historic shift towards the West and away from Kiev's former Soviet masters in Moscow.
But the tug-of-war between Brussels and Moscow for influence in Ukraine has so far done little to alleviate its looming debt crisis and the China visit will involve the signing of at least 20 economic and trade agreements.
"Yanukovich is trying to show that the European Union and Russia are not the only possible partners for Ukraine," said Volodymyr Fesenko of Ukraine's Penta think-tank.
However, he said Beijing may now demand assurances over Ukraine's political and economic stability, adding: "Ukraine is unlikely to secure direct financial aid (from China)."
Beijing has already provided the former Soviet republic with loans worth $10 billion (€7.3billion), but the government must find more than $17 billion (€12.5 billion) in 2014 to meet gas bills and debt repayments.
After China Yanukovich is going to Russia, Azarov said.
"Well, of course, afterwards the president will visit Russia, where we also plan to sign and formalize 'the roadmap of cooperation,' which will imply the establishment of a normal trade and economic regime," Interfax and Voice of Russia quoted Azarov as saying (see positions).
The European Commission repeated yesterday (2 December) that the EU doors remained open to Ukraine to sign the Association Agreement, provided all benchmarks were fulfilled.
Yesterday (2 December) Yanukovych called the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. The Commission press services issued the following communiqué:
“During the call, the President of the Commission made the following points regarding the current tense situation in Ukraine:
1. all sides should show restraint;
2. all civil rights and liberties should be respected;
3. the use of force by the police should be investigated as soon as possible;
4. it is important that the Ukrainian authorities urgently engage with all relevant political forces;
5. a peaceful and political solution is the only way for Ukraine out of the current situation.
“President Yanukovych agreed with this approach and explicitly confirmed the intention to investigate into the use of force by the Ukrainian police and to inform the public about the results.
“During the same telephone call, the President of Ukraine has asked the European Commission to receive a delegation from Ukraine to have a discussion on some aspects of the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area.
“President Barroso confirmed the readiness of the European Commission to receive such a delegation at the appropriate level. He underlined that the European Commission stands ready to discuss aspects of implementation related to the agreements already initialled, but not to re-open any kind of negotiations.
“These terms were accepted by President Yanukovych and it was decided that the timing and the level of this consultation should be arranged through the appropriate diplomatic channels,” the communiqué ends.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said in a statement he was following events in Ukraine with great concern.
“Its authorities are not only ignoring the aspirations of many of its citizens, but are quashing them with batons and tear gas when these hopes are voiced on the streets with desperation.
“The excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable. Reports of provocations, meant to justify charges of the riot police, are especially disturbing. The Ukrainian authorities should listen to its citizens and not beat them.
Schulz urged the Ukrainian government to abide by its international commitments to respect the freedom and expression and assembly. The current crisis should be solved through dialogue among all political forces, he concluded.
Judy Dempsey, Senior Associate to Carnegie Europe, a think-thank, wrote that the EU’s most immediate task is to stop treating Yanukovych as a privileged partner and end the silence over his government’s corruption and nepotism.
The Green/EFA group in the European Parliament called for a European Parliament debate at next week’s plenary session in Strasbourg, as well as a special EP delegation to be sent to Kiev.
The EPP Vice President MEP Jacek Saryusz-Wolski is organising today (3 December) in Brussels a symbolic event to express solidarity with the people of Ukraine in their fight for a European future. The event will take place at 10 a.m. at the third floor of the Brussels building of the EP.
Charles Tannock, conservative foreign affairs spokesman in the European Parliament, said that “the door is still open to an agreement with the EU well before the scheduled Presidential election in 2015”.
“President Yanukovich should be aware that the world is watching him and he should walk through that door, not slam it shut because Russia has told him to do so”, Tannock said.
The President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich is quoted in his official website saying that negotiations with Russia on Strategic Partnership Agreement will begin this week.
"There is an arrangement with Russian Government to begin negotiations this week. We are aware of all the topics, we know each other very well, all our working groups have been cooperating long ago and we do not need plenty of time to understand one another," the Head of State noted. According to him, the Strategic Partnership Agreement was signed in 1997 and now it is time for its prolongation.
Yanukovich stressed that respective negotiations had been held for a year and a half.
"Russia blamed us that we do not take into account their interests in our negotiations with the EU," the President said.
According to him, Russia is also concerned that Ukraine in the course of its negotiations with the EU does not hold consultations with Russia on the commodities that are vulnerable for Russia.
"Is this position fair? Certainly, it is. We do not want to lose our trade turnover with Russia. Russia does not want it either. This process is also longstanding," he emphasized.
"We want to achieve consensus with Russia and sign the Strategic Partnership Agreement. Otherwise we will always be in such an undefined state of relations," he went further.
Also, Yanukovych stressed: "If Ukraine had signed the Association Agreement, it would have lost its dialogue with Russia".
"This opinion coincided with the opinion of the Government. When we started to discuss this situation in details, the proposal to suspend the signature of the FTA Agreement with the EU, hold this dialogue and determine the way to achieve compromises has emerged. But it is impossible without participation of Europe," he said.
"Thus, we will have to organize a trilateral dialogue: Ukraine – EU – Russia. Still, the result of such negotiations is unknown," Yanukovich said.
The EU has rejected such format, which according to Brussels would amount to giving a right of veto to Russia in EU-Ukraine relations.
- 3 Dec.: Opposition to attempt no-confidence vote against Azarov’s cabinet;
- 3-6 Dec: President Yanukovich visits China;
- 6 Dec.: Yanukovich visits Russia.