KIEV Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych told the West Thursday to stay out of his country’s political crisis.
The rebuke came in response to US and EU envoys travelling to Kiev amid mass anti-government protests.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Moscow had offered Kiev a multi-billion dollar bailout package to help a “brotherly country” out of trouble.
President Viktor Yanukovych spoke during a live interview with Ukraine’s main television channels in Kiev on Thursday.
Yanukovych defended the bailout deal with Moscow and blasted top European and US diplomats who
met the protesters in central Kiev.
Putin denied the assistance package had anything to do with the protests or the Ukrainian government’s rejection last month of a pact with the EU.
“I am categorically against others coming to our country and teaching us how to live,” Yanukovych said.
“What is very important is that this is our internal matter, and that other countries do not intervene in our internal affairs.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited the protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square while Victoria Nuland, assistant US Secretary of State gave out cakes to protesters.
Yanukovych slammed the opposition to his rule led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, former foreign minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and ultra-nationalist leader Oleg Tyagnybok.
“I am categorically against politicians initiating such revolutionary processes,” said Yanukovych, who faces a presidential poll in 2015.
“Wait for the elections and the Ukrainian people will have their say.” The president also said if his approval ratings were low he would not run for re-election in 2015.
Russia’s economic assistance has infuriated a section of the Ukrainian opposition who are spearheading mass street protests against Yanukovych, whom they have accused of selling out to Moscow.
During talks with Yanukovych on Tuesday Putin agreed to buy $15 billion (11 billion euros) of Ukraine’s debt in euro bonds and to slash its gas import bill by a third.
Putin insisted that the generous gesture was only aimed at helping a fellow Slav country.
“Today we see that Ukraine is in a difficult situation, economically, socially and politically,” Putin said at his annual press conference in Moscow.
“If we really say that this is a brotherly people and a brotherly country then we must act like close relatives and help the Ukrainian people in this difficult situation.”
Protesters are still occupying Kiev’s Independence Square, known locally as the Maidan, in a bid to persuade the government to sign the EU trade and partnership pact, which would mark a major break with the Kremlin.
“It is not linked to the Maidan or the negotiations with Ukraine and the European Union,” Putin said, referring to the Moscow bailout package.
“There is no need to think anything up. No one is trying to strangle anyone,” he added. “We are not trying to drag Ukraine anywhere.”
It has remained unclear what Russia is getting in return for the scheme.
Opposition leader Klitschko has accused Yanukovych of “pawning” Ukraine to Russia by giving Moscow key Ukrainian assets as collateral. Yanukovych has denied this.
He said on Thursday that Ukraine could still join clauses of a rival Kremlin-led trade pact of ex-Soviet states including Belarus and Kazakhstan.
Both the Ukrainian president and the Ukrainian prime minister, Mykola Azarov, have said their country stands on the brink of economic collapse requiring a loan, be it from Moscow or the EU.
Yanukovych repeated this on Thursday, emphasizing that the decision of whether to join the EU or a Russian-led customs union rested on determining Ukraine’s own conditions for entering into any trade bloc.
The ongoing protests are the biggest to hit Ukraine since the 2004 Orange Revolution, a popular uprising which forced the annulment of fraudulent elections initially claimed by Yanukovych.
The protests have continued, with several thousand
at the Independence Square during the day and the ranks of protesters increasing up to 10,000 in the evening.
A new mass protest is also expected on Sunday in a test of whether the opposition can maintain its campaign.