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Ukraine on ‘brink of civil war,’ ex-president warns

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-29

Ukraine’s former president, Leonid Kravchuk, warned that the country was “on the brink of civil war” in a speech before parliament on Wednesday as protests continued in the capital Kiev.

Kravchuk, who served as the country’s first president following its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, described the situation in stark terms.

“The state is on the brink of civil war. We must call what is happening by its proper name. What is happening is revolution because we are talking about an attempt to bring about a change of power,” he said.

Ukraine was plunged into political crisis in November after President Viktor Yanukovich backed out of a trade agreement with the European Union, negotiating a $15 billion financial agreement with Russia instead. Since then, the capital has been gripped by increasingly violent protests, with clashes between demonstrators and police.

Growing concerns

The situation in Ukraine has caused growing alarm in the West. German Chancellor Angela Merkel telephoned Russian President Vladimir Putin and Yanukovich on Wednesday, urging a constructive dialogue between the government and opposition in Kiev. “The situation must not be allowed to spiral again into violence,” a German government spokesman quoted her as saying.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was more forthright, blaming Russia for Kiev’s failure to sign the EU deals. “An association pact with Ukraine would have been a major boost to Euro-Atlantic security, I truly regret that it could not be done,” he told the French newspaper le Figaro. “The reason is well-known: pressure that Russia exerts on Kiev.”

Ukraine badly needs the Russian money. Figures compiled by UniCredit bank before the bailout put its gross external financing requirements at $3.8 billion in the first three months of this year alone, including $2.29 billion for gas which is covered by the deal with Moscow.

That rises to $5.5 billion in April-June, including repaying a $1 billion bond which matures then. Altogether the government would need $17.44 billion this year to pay its foreign bills, including for Russian gas.

The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called for sincere discussion during Ukraine’s crisis. “The dialogue which has happened from time to time needs to become a real dialogue. We hope to see real progress in these coming days. Time is really of the essence,” she said after meeting Yanukovich.

Russia to move forward with deal

Meanwhile, Putin maintained pressure on Ukraine on Wednesday by reiterating that the controversial financial aid agreement with Ukraine was still on, demanding his government see it through.

“I would ask the government to fulfill all our financial agreements in full,” he said, according to Interfax news agency.

He signaled, however, that the latest installment was on hold in remarks he made during a meeting with senior government officials, extracts of which were broadcast later on Russian TV.

“Let’s wait for the formation of a Ukrainian government,” Putin said. “But I ask you, even in the current situation, not to lose contact with our (Ukrainian) colleagues.”

Putin’s comments came one day after Ukraine’s prime minister, Mykola Azarov, resigned from office in an apparent effort to appease the opposition and demonstrators. Opposition leaders, however, have said the protests will continue as they seek further concessions from the government.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-29

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