Ukraine ‘still intends to sign EU pact’ as US considers sanctions
Viktor Yanukovych made intentions clear to me, says top EU envoy amid US condemnation of crackdown on Kiev protesters.
The EU’s top foreign policy official said Ukraine still intends to sign an association pact with the bloc, as the US considers sanctions against the Ukrainian government over the crackdown on protests that have paralysed the centre of Kiev.
“[Viktor]Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement,” said Cathy Ashton in Brussels on Thursday, after returning from a two-day trip in which she met the president twice and spent time talking to protesters in Independence Square.
Crowds have gathered there in protest against Yanukovych’s decision not to sign the association agreement and instead turn towards Russia for financial help.
Thousands of riot police moved in on Wednesday to remove barricades erected by protesters. Though there were fierce struggles, the violence was isolated and the Ukrainian government said its main goal was to remove roadblocks rather than attack protesters. Nevertheless, the move drew consternation from across the globe.
“All policy options, including sanctions, are on the table, in our view, but obviously that still is being evaluated,” said the US state department spokeswoman, Jen Psaki. “We’re considering policy options. There obviously hasn’t been a decision made. Sanctions are included. But I am not going to outline more specifics.”
Psaki did not give further details.
Many European politicians have made a point of showing solidarity with the protesters, some of them speaking from the stage on Independence Square. Others have vocally backed the protesters online. The Swedish foreign minister, Carl Bildt, called the clashes “repression versus reform; power versus people”.
The US has taken a trenchant stance, with the assistant secretary of state Victoria Nuland, in Kiev for talks with Yanukovych, handing out biscuits on the square the morning after the crackdown. The US secretary of state, John Kerry, has described America’s “disgust” over the government manoeuvres.
“The United States expresses its disgust with the decision of Ukrainian authorities to meet the peaceful protest … with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity. This response is neither acceptable nor does it befit a democracy,” he said.
After securing the square on Wednesday morning, the police then retreated from the streets, and aborted an attempt to regain control of city hall, occupied by protesters. The barricades were promptly rebuilt, twice as high, and up to 20,000 people spent Wednesday night at the square with not a police officer in sight.
If Ukraine does go ahead and sign the EU association and free-trade pact it will take the sting out of the protests, although in the past weeks they have also taken on a personalised air, with opposition leaders demanding that Yanukovych resigns and calls snap presidential and parliamentary elections.
The country’s prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said on Wednesday he had asked the EU for €20bn (£17bn) to help the Ukrainian economy recover from the short-term losses of the integration process, a figure many times higher than what is likely to be on offer.