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Europe

Embattled Ukraine leader meets Putin for loan talks

© Photo: AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-12-17

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich is meeting with President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Tuesday, as he looks to Russia for much-needed financial support as his country faces its deepest political crisis of his nearly four-year tenure.

Yanukovich, who is facing massive, around the clock anti-government protests in the capital of Kiev, hopes to receive a desperately needed multi-billion-dollar loan and to sign a deal for cut-price Russian natural gas.

The Kremlin said in an e-mailed statement Monday that a “substantial” package of agreements are set to be signed with the ex-Soviet country that is teetering close to default as it endures its third recession since 2008.

However, pro-European protesters who are worried about expanding Moscow’s influence over the country fear Yanukovich will also put Ukraine on a path towards future membership in the Russian-led Customs Union that is meant to rival the 28-nation EU bloc.

Mounting pressure

“It is unlikely Yanukovich will sign up for the Customs Union while protesters are still on Independence Square, that would create an explosive situation,” said FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg in Kiev. “Yanukovich needs to secure deals to stabilise the economy. The question is, what he will offer in exchange for that?”

Yanukovich stunned the EU last month by abandoning at the last moment plans to sign a far-reaching trade and cooperation pact with the 28-nation bloc.

His decision to spurn the so-called association agreement triggered mass protests in Ukraine. Yanukovich has rejected protesters main demand to sack Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and call for early presidential and parliamentary elections. But he is under increasing pressure to conduct a major overhaul of his government.

EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday said the door remained open to closer ties with the Ukraine.

“Ministers confirmed again today the EU's readiness to sign the association agreement ... as soon as Ukraine is ready and the relevant conditions are met,” EU foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton told a news conference after the gathering.

‘Throwing in the towel’

Meanwhile, world heavyweight boxing champ Vitali Klitschko vacated his title on Monday to fully concentrate on Ukrainian politics and his role as an opposition leader.

Klitschko, known throughout the world mainly for his boxing exploits, has emerged as one of the most prominent faces of the huge protests that have rocked Kiev in recent weeks.

The World Boxing Council on Monday proclaimed Klitschko a “Champion Emeritus”, a move that would allow him to challenge the new champion directly should he wish to resume his career.

But Klitschko said he did not expect to return to the ring again. “I cannot imagine that at all happening as things stand now,” the boxer said in a statement. “I am now concentrating on the politics in Ukraine, I feel people need me there.”

The 42-year-old Klitschko has a 45-2 record, with 41 KOs.

Date created : 2013-12-17

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