Ukrainian Prime Minister Azarov has praised Moscow's $15-billion loan to Kyiv, calling it a guarantee for Ukraine to avoid economic collapse. The deal has not impressed protesters, who have continued mass demonstrations.
"What would have awaited Ukraine [without the deal]? The answer is clear - bankruptcy and social collapse," Ukrainian Premier Mykola Azarov told parliament on Wednesday.
Azarov referred to a deal signed on Tuesday which included a $15-billion- ($20-billion-) loan from Moscow and an agreement to lower the price of gas supplies by roughly one-third to Ukraine.
The prime minister called the bailout "historic" and insisted that an economic disaster would have been the "New Year's present for the people of Ukraine," had President Viktor Yanukovych not signed the deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The premier's message appeared only to fuel protests on Kyiv's Independence Square. There, thousands of people have converged to denounce the government's refusal to enter into an agreement with the European Union instead.
Brussels suspended talks on a deal with Ukraine following President Yanukovych's failure to yield to international pressure to allow peaceful demonstrators to exercise their right to the freedom of speech without the threat of police crackdowns. His continued dialogue with Moscow has also drawn international criticism.
Pro-EU demonstrators in Ukraine worry that Yanukovych plans to enter the country into a Russian-led Customs Union, meant to compete with the European Union. The deal between Putin and Yanukovych on Tuesday aggravated these worries, even though both leaders insisted they had not discussed the controversial trade agreement.
"Yanukovych used Ukraine as a pawn," opposition leader and world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko told protesters late Tuesday.
"The big question is, what did Yanukovych sign?" Klitschko said.
The opposition estimated that up to 300,000 people have taken part in recent demonstrations.
kms/tj (AP, AFP)