Ukrainian President Yanukovych has blasted foreign diplomats for attempting to interfere in his country's politics. The rebuke came in response to US and EU envoys travelling to Kyiv amid mass anti-government protests.
In a televised address on Thursday, President Viktor Yanukovych criticized Western diplomats for their recent visits to Ukraine in an attempt to bring mass protests to an end.
"What is very important is that this is our internal matter, and that other countries do not intervene in our internal affairs," Yanukovych said.
The EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton (pictured above), visited Kyiv last week. Shortly thereafter, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and, then a few days later, US Republican Senator John McCain paid visits as well. They all met with Ukrainian leaders and pro-EU demonstrators.
"I am categorically against others coming to our country and teaching us how to live," Yanukovych said on Thursday.
The Ukrainian president's recent decision to shelve EU trade talks sparked mass protests in Kyiv calling for his resignation. Hundreds of thousands of people have converged on the city's Independence Square. Some demonstrators have set up barricades there, which police have unsuccessfully attempted to remove.
Economic ties with Moscow
This week the EU froze talks with Ukraine. Meanwhile, Moscow agreed to give Kyiv a $15 billion (11 billion euro) loan and reduce the cost of gas sales to its trade partner. The move further angered pro-EU demonstrators.
"We are not talking about integration, we are talking about economic relations," the Ukrainian president said.
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 most recent deal with Moscow has raised fears that Kyiv had taken one further step toward entering into a customs union with Russia, which critics fear would resemble previous ties during the Soviet era.
Russian President Vladimir Putin also defended the agreement on Thursday during his annual question-and-answer session with the press.
"We see that Ukraine is in difficult straits...if we really say that they are a brotherly nation and people, then we must act lke close relatives and help this nation," Putin said.
kms/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)