Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians
protested in the streets of the capital as the opposition
maintained pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych after he
backed off from a European integration accord.
Speculation Yanukovych is preparing to bring Ukraine into a
Russian-led economic bloc helped fire up crowds yesterday that
rivaled demonstrations the previous weekend, when as many as
500,000 people protested against clashes with baton-wielding
riot police. Police detained some activists, the opposition Udar
party said, after a group of youths demanding a new government
tore down a statue of Vladimir Lenin in central Kiev.
People at a tent camp at the hub of the 2004 Orange
Revolution endured snow and freezing temperatures today as
Russia and the 28-member European Union offer diverging paths to
Ukraine, the second-most populous former Soviet Republic and a
key east-west energy transit route. Yanukovych, whose government
is searching for $10 billion to avoid possible default, last
week met Russian President Vladimir Putin, who opposed the EU
“When protesters put a bigger crowd in the street, they
force the regime to make tough decisions,” Stephen Sestanovich,
a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in
Washington and professor at Columbia University, said yesterday
by phone. “But I haven’t seen any indication Yanukovych wants
to make major concessions to the crowd on the street.”
With their opposition running into a third week, protesters
have blockaded Independence Square with scrap wood, metal and
barbed wire. They are also picketing official buildings to
demand snap elections and the punishment of security officials
after 400 people were injured in clashes when police broke up
demonstrations on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
Opposition leaders told the crowds they’d met their goal of
1 million people and urged groups of 30,000 to set up camps near
buildings including the presidential administration, which was
surrounded by policed in riot gear.
The protests are the largest since the Orange Revolution in
which pro-Western opposition forces came to power after a
presidential victory by Yanukovych was overturned. Yesterday’s
turnout was more than 100,000, according to the Interior
Ministry. Ukraynski Novyny said about 600,000 people were on the
As the demonstrations escalate, First Deputy Premier Serhiy Arbuzov voiced concern over Ukraine’s economy, which is stuck in
a third recession since 2008 after the global economic crisis
triggered a drop in the price of steel, a vital export.
Foreign reserves have plunged more than $6 billion in the
last year and stood at $18.79 billion on Nov. 30, the lowest
level since 2006. The government has repeatedly rejected
International Monetary Fund bailout terms.
Ukraine needs at least $10 billion in loans to improve its
balance of payments and avoid the risk of a default, the
Interfax news service cited Arbuzov as saying Dec. 7. That
underscores years of economic and political mismanagement in
Ukraine that trumps the EU-Russia debate, said Lilit Gevorgyan,
a political analyst at IHS Global Insight.
“The country’s current troubles are not a result of pro-or
anti-EU policy choices,” she said. Instead, they are due to
“years of economic mismanagement, populist economic policies
both by current and previous governments, and failure to deal
with underlying issues like monopolistic economic structures,
corruption, and a politically dependent judiciary.”
Yanukovych, who last month rejected EU association and
free-trade pacts in favor of bolstering trade ties with Russia,
visited Beijing and Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi last week
in search for financial aid and cheaper energy prices.
Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Russia and Ukraine
were now “significantly” closer in negotiating positions over
natural gas after the meeting. Russia has said it would offer
Ukraine cheaper natural gas if the country of 45 million people
signs up to a Customs Union with Kazakhstan and Belarus that
Putin is planning.
While Putin and Yanukovych denied that they’d discussed
membership of the Customs Union, opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Yanukovych plans to sign up at a Dec. 17 meeting
in Moscow, accusing him of “selling” Ukraine.
European Commission President Jose Barroso spoke to
Yanukovych by phone to urge restraint and a political solution
to the situation, his office said yesterday. The EU’s foreign
policy chief, Catherine Ashton, will visit Kiev in the coming
days to try to help defuse the crisis, according to a statement.
“Even more obvious that Ukraine needs a round table
agreement to get out of its crisis,” Swedish Foreign Minister
Carl Bildt posted on his Twitter account, saying that going
without one would create a “risk of violence and repression.”
The opposition has “credible” information that Yanukovych
plans to impose a state of emergency as part of a deal to get
economic and political support from Russia, Yatsenyuk said
“We ask our European and western partners not to allow
this president to crack down on democracy,” he said.
Premier Mykola Azarov’s cabinet survived a no-confidence
vote last week. It says demonstrators started the trouble with
police. Ukraine’s security service said yesterday in a statement
it had opened a criminal investigation into “certain
politicians” who sought to “seize power.”
As demonstrators marched from the square, they stuck
stickers calling for peaceful protests on buses used by police
to barricade side-streets. Some began pitching tents outside the
Sergei Pronin, a 50-year-old veteran of the Soviet Union’s
10-year war in Afghanistan, said he’d joined other former
soldiers to serve as a barrier between demonstrators and police
after the recent violence.
After the EU criticized Putin for pressuring Yanukovych,
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Dec. 6 accused German
Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle of “interference in internal
affairs.” Westerwelle met world heavyweight boxing champion
Vitali Klitschko, the other main Ukrainian opposition leader,
and accompanied him to Independence Square on Dec. 4. Klitschko
will attend a meeting of the European People’s Party in mid-December and make a public appearance with Chancellor Angela Merkel, Der Spiegel reported.
As balloons in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine’s flag
floated over Independence Square, people danced to songs. Yury
Muzychuk, 55, head of a management-consulting company in the
western city of Lviv, said the protesters won’t give up.
“We can’t become cattle stuck in a depressed mood and
ruled for decades by the Yanukovych dynasty,” he said. “For us
the main thing isn’t joining the EU, it’s about adopting normal
To contact the reporters on this story:
Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at
Kateryna Choursina in Kiev at
Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at
To contact the editors responsible for this story:
Balazs Penz at
James M. Gomez at