Ukraine president defiant as protesters raid sites

Vows to bolster Russian alliance after spurning EU

Demonstrators rallied in Kiev on Monday. Protesters occupied Kiev City Hall and the large Trade Unions building nearby and blockaded the Cabinet Ministry, preventing top officials from reaching their offices.
Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Demonstrators rallied in Kiev on Monday. Protesters occupied Kiev City Hall and the large Trade Unions building nearby and blockaded the Cabinet Ministry, preventing top officials from reaching their offices.

KIEV — Even as thousands of protesters occupied Independence Square, blockaded the Cabinet Ministry, and continued to demand his resignation, President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine on Monday defended his refusal to sign accords with the European Union.

Yanukovych also said he was on the verge of securing lower gas prices from Russia and urged opposition politicians to wait for presidential elections in 2015 to challenge him.

On the day after a huge protest by hundreds of thousands of people in Kiev, the capital, and by thousands more in other cities, Yanukovych struck a casual pose, sitting in an armchair for an interview with four television stations.


He seemed to brush aside the unrest in the country, saying he would leave as scheduled for a state visit to China on Tuesday and taking the opportunity to note that the government intended to increase financing for road repair next year.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

To many here, it was unclear if Yanukovych’s calm demeanor reflected supreme confidence, complete denial, or some combination of the two. Other political leaders in Ukraine acknowledged that the authorities were facing a serious civil disturbance, including the occupation by protesters of Kiev City Hall and the large Trade Unions building nearby, as well as a blockade of the Cabinet Ministry, which prevented top officials from reaching their offices.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, in a meeting with Western ambassadors, complained about the widening unrest, saying, “This has all the signs of a coup.”

Opposition leaders in Parliament said they would call for vote of no-confidence in the government Tuesday, while protest leaders appeared to be digging in for a long battle on the streets, establishing a tent city in Independence Square that included first aid stations and canteens.

The speaker of Parliament, Volydymor Rybak, has called for “round-table” talks to resolve the crisis in Ukraine, using the same buzz-phrase for negotiations in 2004 that ultimately settled the Orange Revolution with a revote that Yanukovych lost to Viktor A. Yushchenko. Rybak on Monday said he did not see any basis for declaring a state of emergency. That was a step Yanukovych and some of his top security advisers appeared to be considering, one that political analysts said would almost certainly escalate the confrontation with demonstrators who have defied court orders and edicts.


Yanukovych’s remarks during the interview suggested that he was reaching out even further for help from Russia, where President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday remarked, “The events in Ukraine seem more like a pogrom than a revolution.”

Russia had exerted heavy pressure on Yanukovych to scuttle the political and free trade agreements with Europe, threatening trade sanctions that could decimate the Ukrainian economy.

Yanukovych, in the television interview, said that he planned to initiate negotiations this week with Russia to extend a strategic partnership agreement dating from 1997. He said that both Ukraine and Russia were acting in their own economic interests by seeking to strengthen ties, and he took a jab at the protesters who demanded that he sign the accords with Europe, suggesting that they were not acting in accordance with Western values.

“If we want European standards, we must do everything within the framework of the law. This is the principle of democracy,” Yanukovych said. He also suggested that the leaders in Parliament supporting demands for his resignation were getting ahead of themselves.

“I urge all politicians not to rush,” he said. “They are all still young, and they have everything ahead of them. Elections are coming. People will determine. Whoever is elected, so be it.”


Several of the opposition leaders in Parliament, including Arseniy P. Yatseniuk of the Fatherland coalition, boxing champion Vitali Klitschko of the Udar party, and Oleg Tyagnibok of the nationalist Svoboda Party, are leading the protest movement in partnership with a coalition of civic activists.

After a violent crackdown by the police on several hundred demonstrators early Saturday, serious rifts had appeared to emerge in Yanukovych’s administration, notably among his Party of Regions in Parliament.