KIEV – Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych Friday held surprise talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on a strategic partnership treaty with Moscow a move that faces strong resistance from pro-West demonstrators.
Yanukovych flew from China to Sochi in southern Russia for the meeting. He also cancelled a visit to Malta.
Last month he shelved a partnership deal with the EU, triggering angry protests in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
Ukraine has witnessed the biggest protests in the country since the 2004 Orange Revolution which were sparked by his rejection of a historic EU agreement.
Yanukovych’s official website said the meeting at Putin’s Black Sea retreat in Sochi focused on “trade and economic cooperation … and preparation for the future treaty on strategic partnership”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the talks — the fourth between the pair in less than two months — concerned “current bilateral issues”.
Moscow has been pressuring Ukraine to join a trade bloc including Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus
Jailed opposition politician Yulia Tymoshenko has reportedly called off a prison hunger strike.
The former prime minister’s daughter, Eugenia, said her mother had accepted a request from protesters in Kiev to stop the fast.
She had reportedly begun the hunger strike on 25 November in protest at Yanukovych’s failure to sign the EU deal.
Thousands of anti-Yanukovych protesters remain outside the government building on Kiev’s Independence Square, braving bitter cold. A sizeable tent camp for protesters has come up including field kitchens for the long haul on Kiev’s main square.
Protesters are angry that Yanukovych made an 11th-hour U-turn in relations with the EU, refusing to sign the association agreement that had been prepared during years of negotiations.
The authorities on Thursday gave the protesters five days to halt their blockade of government buildings or face forced expulsion — a move that has raise fears of a repeat of clashes witnessed last weekend.
The political crisis has also dealt a heavy blow to Ukraine’s already-struggling economy amid growing speculation that Kiev may fail to service billions of dollars in debt and other payments that
will be due by the end of 2014.
About 5,000 people occupied Independence Square on Friday to demand the government’s dismissal and snap presidential and parliament polls.
Many protesters said they have been emboldened by the strong support given by US and EU officials during a two-day meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that ended in Kiev on Friday.
US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland urged Kiev “to listen to the voices of its people” while German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle personally visited Independence Square.
The West’s blunt response has outraged Moscow.
“How would our German partners feel if the Russian foreign minister went to some gathering that was being held against German rules,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev demanded in reference to Westerwelle’s visit to Independence Square.