Western powers, Russia exchange sharp words over Ukraine

Western powers and Russia have exchanged sharp words over the future of Ukraine, which spiraled into chaos after President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a European Union trade deal in favor of closer ties to Russia.

The two sides exchanged barbs on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said nowhere was the “fight for a democratic, European future” more important than in Ukraine.

US secretary of state John Kerry. Photo: Tobias Kleinschmidt/Munich Security Conference
US secretary of state John Kerry. Photo: Tobias Kleinschmidt/Munich Security Conference

He said the U.S. and the EU stood “with the people of Ukraine in that fight.”

Kerry is meeting Saturday with opposition politician Arseny Yatsenyuk and former boxing champion-turned-activist Vitaly Klitschko.

Vitali Klitschko. Photo: Mueller/MSC
Vitali Klitschko. Photo: Mueller/MSC

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused European politicians of fomenting anti-government protests in Ukraine.

During a speech at the conference, he said the politicians had not condemned violent protesters who had seized and held government buildings in Ukraine.

Violence has escalated in Ukraine since the protests erupted in November.

On Friday, President Yanukovych signed legislation that grants amnesty to protesters detained during anti-government demonstrations. However, the amnesty takes effect only if other protesters vacate government buildings they have seized.

Opposition leaders have rejected the measure, which the president acted on after announcing a day earlier that he had gone on sick leave for an acute respiratory infection and fever.

Tensions in Ukraine rose Thursday after opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov, missing since January 22, was found outside Kyiv with severe cuts and bruises to his face, along with other injuries. Bulatov said he was kidnapped by unknown abductors, tortured and held for days before being abandoned in a forest. Bulatov says he made his way to a nearby village, where he reached his friends by phone.

The U.N. human rights office has called on President Yanukovych to investigate recent reports of deaths, kidnappings and torture during the nation’s political unrest. A spokesman for U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the commissioner is “appalled” by the reports.

Yanukovych issued a statement Thursday accusing opposition leaders of escalating the political crisis and saying the government has fulfilled its obligations to end the standoff.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday he wants to wait for a new government in Ukraine before proceeding with a promised $15 billion loan to Ukraine along with substantial natural gas discounts.

Source: VOANews.com
(Main photo, of Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov: Zwez/Munich Security Conference)