Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to walk away from a deal that would have aligned his former Soviet republic more closely with the European Union sparked both anger and applause on the streets of Kiev.
A sea of blue and gold, the colours of both the EU and Ukrainian flags, swept through the capital as people joined rival protests — one to celebrate closer ties with Russia, another to lament what they saw as a lost chance.
“Europe was the way out of the mess we’re in, the way out of the corruption that has overwhelmed our country,” said Andrey Dobrolet, 41, a lawyer.
“But now we see the real colours of the people in power,” he said, after an announcement that Yanukovich was leaving a summit in Vilnius without the free trade agreement that had been months in negotiation.
Independence Square, theatre of the Orange Revolution of 2004-5 that thwarted Yanukovich’s first presidential bid, again became a focus for protests — though in small numbers — when Kiev said on Sunday that it was turning its back on the EU deal and boosting trade ties with its former Soviet master, Russia.
Some wiped away tears, huddling around oil barrels where wood, window frames and crates were being burned to keep protesters warm.
“I expected this, but the people will continue to fight and tensions will continue,” said Sergei Bandar, 61, a pensioner.
“If we had signed, we would have opened our borders and killed our own manufacturers,” said Anatoliy Bliznyuk, a parliamentarian from Yanu-kovich’s Regions Party.
The two rallies reflected the linguistic and cultural split between western Ukraine, where support for the EU had been strong, and the predominantly Russian-speaking east, from which Yanukovich himself hails.
The opposition-minded Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta described the situation as a love triangle in which Ukraine was a cheating husband, the EU an attractive mistress and Russia an angry wife.
Putin is widely thought to have offered Ukraine lower prices for gas supplies and threatened crippling trade sanctions if it signed the planned trade pact with the EU in Lithuania, although he denies this.
President Yanukovich may also have been shopping around for the best finance deal to rescue his country. Russia has clearly offered him better terms than the €600 million the EU has put on the table.
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