The European Commission announced yesterday (15 December) it was halting work on a landmark trade and political pact with Ukraine, meanwhile details emerged of the sanctions the United States and the EU would impose on President Viktor Yanukovich and oligarchs if there was a crackdown on demonstrators.
EU enlargement chief Štefan Füle said on Twitter that the words and deeds of Yanukovich and his government on the EU-Ukraine deal were "further and further apart".
“Their arguments have no grounds in reality,” Füle said. In another Tweet he said that he told First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov that that “further discussion is conditioned on a clear commitment to sign”, adding “Work on hold, had no answer".
His announcement came as 200,000 people braved sub-zero temperatures in Kiev to rally for the fourth weekend in a row against Yanukovich's decision not to sign the EU pact at a summit last month and concentrate instead on closer ties with Russia.
Yanukovich is due to visit Moscow tomorrow and meet with Russian President Putin. The opposition fears he may take the first steps towards joining a Moscow-led customs union, together with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which they see as an attempt by President Vladimir Putin to re-create the Soviet Union.
"He might as well stay in Moscow and not come back to Kiev if a customs union agreement is signed," reportedly declared Arseny Yatsenyuk, an opposition leader and former economy minister.
Protesters called for another mass rally on Tuesday to monitor Yanukovich's trip to Moscow. Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said late on Sunday that he expected a deal on lower price for Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine.
Russia’s interference ‘not acceptable’ for the US
The anti-government protesters received powerful encouragement on Sunday as US Senator John McCain addressed the crowd on Kiev's Maidan Square, telling them their destiny lay in Europe.
The Republican senator, the latest of a string of European and American dignitaries to visit Kyiv, met the trio of opposition leaders – the former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko as well as Yatsenyuk and the leader of the nationalist party Svoboda Oleh Tyahnybok.
"We … want to make it clear to Russia and Vladimir Putin that interference in the affairs of Ukraine is not acceptable to the United States," McCain said.
US, EU sanctions?
In the meantime, a website quoted diplomatic sources as saying that Washington and Brussels had agreed to introduce immediate sanctions against Yanukovich and leading oligarchs, in the case of a crackdown on the protests on Maidan square.
According to the website Censor.net, one of the media which were recently raided by the police, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland has not only warned told Yanukovich about the sanctions, but also named the people who would be hit in the first place.
Reportedly, those named were oligarch Rinat Akhmetov, founder and President of System Capital management and ranked as 47th richest man in the world with a fortune of $15.4 billion, Vadim Noninsky, owner of Smart Holding Group, with an estimated fortune of $1.9 billion, and the brothers Andriy and Serhiy Klyuyev, rich businessmen and politicians from Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions.
As the Secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, Andriy Klyuyev has allegedly used his power to secure multi-billion contracts for members of the Yanukovich family.
According to Censor.net, these oligarchs are targeted because they control the MPs of the Party of the Regions. The United States reportedly wants the Party of the Regions to vote in favour of four demands by the opposition:
1. The calling of early presidential elections (normally elections were due in 2015);
2. Calling early parliamentary elections;
3. Freeing former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from jail and restoring her citizen’s rights;
4. Opening court cases against police and special force members who took part in the crackdown on protests.
Reportedly, Nuland said that the non-compliance with these requests would put at major risk the foreign activities of the companies DTEK and Metinvest. DTEK is an energy holding and the largest private company in Ukraine. Metinvest is a holding company of mining and steel assets. Both are owned by Akhmetov.
Nuland reportedly said that the companies had moved assets to Europe, that their markets were in Europe and the United States, and all their representatives had property abroad.
The US assistant secretary of state also met with Akhmetov, which signalled that Yanukovich was no longer seen as a valid interlocutor, censor.net wrote.
Apparently as a reaction, Akhmetov declared that he favoured Ukrainian rapprochement with Europe.