December 19, 2013
Ukraine’s embattled president harshly criticized the West on Thursday for supporting massive street protests calling for his ouster and announced plans to partially join a Moscow-led economic union – a move likely to deepen the country’s political crisis.
Speaking in a televised interview with some hand-picked journalists, President Viktor Yanukovych criticized foreign nations for meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Visibly angered, Yanukovych said he was “categorically against others coming to our country and teaching us how to live.” He ruled out early elections and said opposition politicians needed to “keep their own ambitions under control” after weeks of anti-government protests.
The Ukrainian leader also said his Cabinet was analyzing which parts of the Moscow-led customs union Ukraine should join.
In Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin insisted Thursday that Russia’s bailout of Ukraine’s struggling economy was driven by a desire to help a partner in dire straits and wasn’t linked to Kyiv’s talks with the European Union.
Putin made the comments during an annual news conference, after weeks of political turmoil in Ukraine sparked by Kyiv’s unexpected refusal to sign a key integration accord with the EU, opting instead to deepen ties with Russia, which opposed the deal.
Yanukovych, in his interview Thursday, said Ukraine had simply “taken a pause” to decide on “what conditions we are signing the free trade zone agreement” with the EU.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said the bailout deal with Moscow would allow Ukraine to revitalize its economy and avoid collapse. In addition to a $15 billion loan, the deal includes slashing the price of natural gas imports from Russia by a third.
After sealing the agreement, Azarov announced three increases in public wages next year as Yanukovych prepares to seek a second term in 2015.
President Yanukovych said he would not run for re-election if his approval ratings remain low. According to recent opinion polls, he trails opposition leaders such as former heavyweight boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
Anti-government protests in Ukraine began a month ago and have grown into Ukraine’s biggest political crisis in a decade.
The Ukrainian government, which has sought up to $20 billion in foreign assistance to prop up its struggling economy, has assured protesters it eventually plans to sign an association agreement with the European Union.
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