Kremlin to offer Ukraine €11bn lifeline to stave off bankruptcy
Russia has given Ukraine an economic lifeline that pulls its neighbour closer into the Kremlin's orbit by staving off the imminent threat of bankruptcy at the expense of European expansion.
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, oversaw the signature of a series of agreements signed in a Kremlin hall to cut the price of gas exports, remove trade barriers and invest €11bn in Ukraine's government debt.
Viktor Yanukovich, the Ukrainian president, has been under Kremlin pressure to move away from a strategic trade and investment pact with Brussels and plump instead for a customs union with Russia.
Against the backdrop of a protest movement that has seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets of Kiev and other cities, the Russian-speaking Mr Yanukovich has secured much-needed cash to keep the Ukrainian economy afloat until the next elections in 2015.
The scenes broadcast from the Kremlin were greeted with jeers from tens of thousands of protesters occupying Kiev's independence square. Fears that Mr Yanukovich would cut a deal for billions in loans and entrap Kiev into a Russian-led customs union have brought massive crowds on to the streets calling for the resignation of the government.
With the failure of Ukraine to accept an accession pact that grants free trade with the European Union, protesters believe a customs union would effectively shut the door to further European integration.
Mr Putin said the measures did not tie Ukraine's hands.
"In view of the problems I mentioned facing the Ukrainian economy, which, I believe, are largely due to the global financial crisis, the Russian government has decided to purchase €11bn of Ukrainian government securities in order to support the Ukrainian budget," he said.
"I want to draw your attention to the fact that this is not tied to any conditions. I want to calm you down -- we have not discussed the issue of Ukraine's accession to the customs union at all today."
Ukrainian opposition leaders warned that any deal involving the customs union was a provocation to the protesters.
Vitaly Klitschko, the heavyweight boxer turned opposition leader, told crowds that Mr Yanukovich had sold out the country's interests.
"He has given up Ukraine's national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian," he said.
Arseny Yatsenyuk, the leader of the centre-Right Fatherland party, warned Mr Yanukovich to "stay in Moscow".
Mr Yanukovich maintains that he is committed to signing the European association deal once Russian concerns -- and compensation for losses to the Ukrainian economy -- have been addressed.
But he is in desperate need of money to keep the Ukrainian economy afloat, and he needs to find about e12bn to pay a gas bill to Russia's Gazprom. (© Daily Telegraph, London)