Ukrainians protest president's continuation of ties to Moscow

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KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine's president faced growing street protests at home Friday after he rejected an agreement to tie his nation's political and economic future to the West, instead keeping intact Ukraine's historical links with Moscow.

The news that President Viktor Yanukovich came away from the European Union summit in Lithuania empty-handed angered thousands of mostly young protesters gathered in Kiev's Independence Square -- site of massive demonstrations that triggered the Orange Revolution against pro-Russian rule nearly a decade ago -- to demand that the president be impeached and that the association agreement with the EU be signed.

The conflict goes to the heart of deep divisions between the country's mostly pro-European west and its eastern industrial regions tied to Russia, which still wields great influence over Ukraine more than two decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Yanukovich suggested Friday that he would sign the association agreement, which would improve trade and other ties with the EU, if measures could be worked out to aid the Ukrainian economy's "adjustment to new conditions." He maintains that the EU was offering Ukraine about $830 million to shore up its economy as it adjusted to standards demanded by the association, and that Ukraine needs about $220 billion.

"I am sure that as a result of this work, the existing contradictions will be lifted that will allow us to sign the agreement and enable the strategic movement toward European integration without serious losses for the economy of Ukraine," Mr. Yanukovich was quoted as saying on his official Web site.

Other participants in the EU summit suggested that Ukraine pulled back under strong pressure from Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, with whom Mr. Yanukovich had held three recent meetings. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara "in our discussions confirms that Ukraine has succumbed to severe Russian economic pressure in postponing EU agreement," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on Twitter.

The EU did announce Friday new association agreements with two other former Soviet republics, Georgia and Moldova.

Brandishing yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags and the blue banner of the EU, protesters gathered in the Ukrainian capital Friday carrying signs calling on Mr. Yanukovich to "Go to Siberia. We wanna live in Europe!" They tore up and trampled leaflets with a drawing of Mr. Yanukovich's face and the word "Sign!"

The president betrayed his people, said Natalia Pylypiv, a 20-year-old geology student from the western city of Ivano-Frankivsk, as thousands of demonstrators chanted, "Impeachment, impeachment!" in the square on the cold afternoon.

"I came to Kiev to help influence the signing of the agreement, but what I feel now is utter disappointment," said Ms. Pylypiv, who had symbols of the European Union and Ukraine painted on her cheeks. "I can't stand seeing Yanukovich tearing himself between Europe and Mr. Putin, and I hate to see Putin winning."

While Mr. Yanukovich told Ukraine television that he had not "coordinated" with Russia on his decision, chocolate production billionaire and lawmaker Pyotr Poroshenko said it was clear Russia had pressured Ukraine before the negotiations in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital. As of summer, he said, about 27,000 Ukrainian citizens had been blacklisted from entering Russia, the Russian energy giant Gazprom was threatening to impose sanctions over debts owed to it by Ukraine, and more than 600 enterprises were barred from doing business in Russia -- including his Roshen, a major chocolates and candies producer.


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