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US insists on Ukraine reforms

Aid won’t come without changes, diplomat says

Antigovernment protesters attended a Mass in Kiev’s Independence Square on Friday.

Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

Antigovernment protesters attended a Mass in Kiev’s Independence Square on Friday.

KIEV — Washington is willing to consider financial aid to Ukraine as the country struggles through a polarizing political crisis, but only if it undertakes political and economic reforms, a top US diplomat said Friday.

The comment by Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland comes after the opposition leaders behind more than two months of protests suggested that Ukraine needs aid akin to the Marshall Plan, the US program that propped up European nations after World War II to encourage political stability.

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Nuland spoke to reporters at the end of a two-day visit that included separate meetings with President Viktor Yanukovych and leaders of the protests seeking his resignation.

‘‘Nobody is willing to give economic support, from the United States or from the IMF or from Europe, to an unreformed Ukraine,’’ Nuland said.

Meanwhile, a Russian government aide who was among the first to post a video online containing a bugged phone call between Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine denied Friday that he or the government played a role in leaking the recording.

Dmitry Loskutov, an aide to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, said he was surfing a social networking website Thursday when he came across the video, in which Nuland disparages the European Union’s efforts in Ukraine.

Loskutov posted a link on Twitter which he said proved that another anonymous user had posted the video Wednesday, the day before he did.

Ukraine’s faltering economy is a key issue in the crisis. Huge protests began when Yanukovych shelved an agreement to deepen ties with the 28-nation European Union in favor of getting a $15 billion loan from Russia. Many Ukrainians resent the long shadow Russia has cast over Ukraine.

The protesters quickly expanded their grievances to calls for Yanukovych’s resignation and the denunciation of police violence after the brutal dispersal of some early peaceful rallies. The demonstrations erupted into clashes last month after Yanukovych approved harsh laws against protesters. At least three protesters died in the clashes.

The antiprotest laws were repealed, but protesters remain in a sprawling tent camp in downtown Kiev.

Yanukovych backed off the long-anticipated agreement with the EU because of concerns that the bloc was not offering a sufficient cushion for trade that presumably would be lost with Russia, which wants Ukraine to join a Moscow-led trade alliance.

Opponents say that effectively aims to reconstitute the defunct Soviet Union in a group dominated by President Vladimir Putin of Russia.

Ukraine’s economic troubles include its reliance on energy-inefficient heavy industries and its policy of selling gas to households at about one-fifth the price it pays Russia for the imports.

The International Monetary Fund in 2012 denied Ukraine an aid package because Yanukovych was unwilling to implement economic reforms and austerity measures that could have undermined his support.

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