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EU suspends trade deal talks with Ukraine

People shouted slogans and waved Ukrainian and European Union flags as a woman held a picture of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a rally in Kiev.AFP/Getty Images

KIEV, Ukraine — The European Union on Sunday broke off talks with Ukraine on the far-reaching trade deal that protesters here have been demanding for weeks, and a top official issued a stinging, angry statement all but accusing Ukraine's president of dissembling.

The bloc's enlargement chief, Stefan Fule, wrote on Twitter that the words and actions of the president, Viktor Yanukovych, were "growing further and further apart," even as the Ukrainian crisis was showing signs of deepening. On Sunday, about a 100,000 protesters clogged a main plaza and surrounding streets, rivaling earlier weekend rallies in size.

The statement by Fule, coming amid this protest, sent a pointed message to the crowd that the Ukraine government might well have to change before the EU agreement can be revived.


Fule said that further discussions on the trade agreement would hinge on receiving clear signals from Ukraine's government, but that he had received no response. "Work on hold," he tweeted, saying he had told a Ukrainian deputy prime minister, Sergei Arbuzov, that the government had to show "a clear commitment to sign."

Officials in Brussels, the headquarters of the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, confirmed the decision to suspend the talks with Ukraine.

After years of negotiations with Brussels, Yanukovych was to sign the EU association agreement late last month, but then he announced that he would not because austerity measures demanded in a related International Monetary Fund loan were too stringent and because Russia had threatened trade sanctions.

His government began talks on rival trade and economic deals with Russia, even as Yanukovych insisted he intended eventually to sign the EU deal.

Perplexed, high-level Western diplomats traveled to Kiev, Ukraine's capital, last week. Yanukovych told the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and an assistant secretary of state, Victoria Nuland, that he intended to sign the European trade deal, and would not join the rival Russian-backed customs union.


Ashton, after returning from her mission to Ukraine, said in Brussels on Thursday that she had assurances from the president of his intention to sign.

"Yanukovych made it clear to me that he intends to sign the association agreement," she said.

By Friday, though, the Ukrainian government had again issued orders to ministers to plan to reconcile Ukrainian customs and trade legislation with the Russian-led customs union, not the EU, the newspaper Ukrainskaya Pravda reported, adding to a sense of drift in the government all the more ominous for the large, sustained protests in the capital.

A sprawling crowd packed Independence Square in Kiev on Sunday to hear several speeches, including one by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was in the Ukrainian capital for meetings with opposition leaders and Ukraine's foreign minister.

"Ukraine will make Europe better, and Europe will make Ukraine better," McCain told the crowd. "We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe."

Supporters of the political party of Vitali Klitschko, a champion boxer, marched to the headquarters of the Ukrainian national police, the SBU, where they pooled in front of the building and chanted, "Shame! Shame!" Others went to the Interior Ministry and central election office.

Adding to tension in the capital Sunday, Yanukovych's political party, the Party of Regions, bused in thousands of supporters from provincial towns to gather in a park about a mile from Independence Square, placing the two large crowds in proximity and raising the prospect that groups from each camp would be in the streets overnight.


Organizers of the pro-government rally said buses and trains chartered by the Party of Regions brought in thousands of people, mostly young men, Sunday morning. They included coal miners and laborers from the eastern Ukrainian industrial heartlands.

The pro-European Union protest leaders asked supporters to turn out Tuesday, when Yanukovych has scheduled a visit to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders have been negotiating over a desperately needed financial aid package that could include discounts on natural gas and, perhaps, a bridge loan for Ukraine.

Opposition leaders say they fear that Yanukovych is secretly preparing to sign the customs union pact. If the government chooses the Russian deal, it would further inflame the protest movement in Kiev.