Russia denies holding trade talks with strife-torn Ukraine
AS thousands of anti-government protesters kept their vigil in Ukraine's capital yesterday, officials sought to reduce their anger with assurances that Russian and Ukrainian presidents didn't discuss Ukraine joining a Russian-led customs union at a meeting this week.
But that reassurance didn't seem to mollify the protesters, who braved snow and strong winds to stay at Kiev's Independence Square.
The protests started after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych backed away from signing a long-expected agreement with the European Union to deepen political and economic ties.
Russia has pressured Ukraine to join a trade bloc also including Kazakhstan and Belarus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yanukovych met on Friday in Sochi. Details were few, but Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said "the question of Ukraine's possibly joining the customs union was not discussed in Sochi." Yanukovych's office later issued a similar statement.
Ukraine's dependence on Russian natural gas gives Moscow considerable leverage, and economically struggling Ukraine has sought to negotiate lower prices.