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Main facts behind crisis in Ukraine

03 December 2013
by eub2 -- last modified 03 December 2013

Ukraine is undergoing its deepest political crisis since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution as it once again chooses between keeping ties to old master Russia and tying its future more closely with the West.


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(KIEV) - Ukraine is undergoing its deepest political crisis since the 2004 pro-democracy Orange Revolution as it once again chooses between keeping ties to old master Russia and tying its future more closely with the West.

Here are some of the main facts behind the tumult in Ukraine and what prompted more than 100,000 people to come out in protest on Kiev's iconic Independence Square.

WHAT SPARKED PROTESTS

In a surprise move, Ukraine capped years of difficult negotiations last week by rejecting a landmark trade deal with the European Union that would have opened the ex-Soviet state's way to future membership in the 28-nation club.

Ukrainian officials eventually admitted that the U-turn resulted from pressure by Russia, which threatened painful sanctions in order to keep its historic vassal from falling under further Western influence.

But the decision has only contributed to widening the cracks between Ukraine's pro-European western regions and its Russian-speaking eastern industrial heartland.

The EU deal failure also stemmed from President Viktor Yanukovych's refusal to free his political foe Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister whose jailing for seven years in 2011 the West views as a case of selective justice.

OPPOSITION DEMANDS

The opposition initially wanted see Yanukovych sign the so-called Association Agreement with the European Union and ensure Tymoshenko's release.

But his failure to sign the deal in Vilnius on Friday and a violent police crackdown on protesters in the early hours of Saturday has hardened those demands.

The three main opposition parties in parliament now want both the president and his cabinet to step down and call snap elections.

Opposition supporters have so far set up a tent city on Independence Square, blocked the main government building, occupied Kiev's City Hall, and called for a general strike that has seen officials walk off their jobs in some western regions.

Unlike the peaceful three-week uprising of 2004, these protests have on several occasions turned violent as riot police clashed with protesters, leaving many wounded on both sides.

RUSSIA'S POSITION

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the USSR's collapse one of history's great tragedies and now wants to see the former Soviet states loosely realigned in a Moscow-led trade and military bloc.

The central part of Putin's vision involves a so-called Customs Union that besides Russia already includes Belarus and Kazakhstan.

Putin wants to build this alliance into an economic counterweight to the European Union, a dream all but impossible to achieve without Ukraine's involvement.

Putin hinted this week that the protests have somehow been instigated by Western countries, calling them "pre-planned" and saying they "seem more like a pogrom than a revolution."

During a visit to Yerevan on Monday, Putin sent a clear signal to Kiev, showing the economic advantages of remaining under Moscow's wing by slashing Armenia's natural gas price by 30 percent.

Armenia had until September also been eyeing an Association Agreement with the European Union, but is now entering negotiations to join Russia's Customs Union.

EU STANCE

The European Union has called on both the authorities and the opposition to show restraint, saying it is ready to resume talks with Ukraine's government on the Association Agreement.

Lacking influence on the course of events in Kiev, however, Brussels has made no fresh efforts to persuade Yanukovych to adopt a more flexible position.

EU officials will be hosting a Ukrainian trade delegation this week, but not much immediate progress is expected.

UKRAINE'S OPTIONS

Under pressure from both the east and west, Ukrainian officials have taken contradictory steps that suggest a leadership crisis.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov on Monday denounced the protests as an attempted "coup". But on Tuesday, he offered a formal government apology for the excessive use of police force.

Yanukovych insists his government still hopes Ukraine will one day join the European Union, but has put forward new financial conditions for any association deal.

In the coming days, meanwhile, Yanukovych plans to visit Russia to sign a "cooperation roadmap" with Putin.

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