Ukraine’s Premier Hails Russian Aid, Saying Crisis Has Passed

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian officials on Wednesday praised a financial aid package from Russia as the country’s only hope to prevent economic collapse, although it was signed in defiance of a large and sustained protest in the capital.

A rally in support of the Ukrainian president in Kiev on Wednesday. A deal with Russia provides $15 billion in loans and a steep discount on natural gas prices.

“Today, I can firmly announce that the crisis moment has passed,” the country’s prime minister, Mykola Azarov, said in comments reported by the Ukrainian news media.

“We have a new and firm perspective of confidence. We will maintain social and financial stability. Now, nothing threatens the financial and economic stability of Ukraine.”

On Tuesday, President Viktor F. Yanukovich of Ukraine and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said that Russia would come to the rescue of its financially troubled neighbor, providing $15 billion in loans and a steep discount on natural gas prices. 

The announcement seemed to have a deflating effect on the protesters, a tired and haggard group after spending more than three weeks encamped on Independence Square in Kiev.

A church choir sang.

Protest leaders asked for patience as they scrambled to devise a new strategy.

The protests were ignited by the government’s last-minute failure to sign political and free-trade accords with Europe, which had been seen as an alternative to the Russian deal.

Their demands, though, had expanded to seeking punishment for the police, accused of violently attacking demonstrators, and the resignation of Mr. Azarov.

The government is now prepared to negotiate with the protesters over those demands, Victor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine’s most powerful businessmen, said in an interview.

Concessions now from Mr. Yanukovich on these domestic political issues could defuse the demonstrations, even though the main demand, for European integration, went unmet.

“People came to the streets today for values and against violence,” he said.

“Now, they are not there for the association agreement,” the name of the wide-ranging trade deal with the European Union that Mr. Yanukovich rejected.

On Wednesday, opposition leaders said they had moved closer to obtaining enough votes in Parliament to dismiss the government of Mr. Azarov, signaling the shift in emphasis to domestic political issues.

In London, around 60 people gathered in front of the multimillion dollar residence of Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, who is considered a strong ally of Mr. Yanukovich, to protest the deal with Russia.

“Akhmetov don’t be quiet! Akhmetov stop Yanukovich!” chanted the crowd, made up of businesspeople, lawyers and Ukrainian immigrants.

They whistled, waved Ukrainian flags and held up placards, one reading: “Putin, hands off Ukraine!”

It was unclear whether Mr. Akhmetov or his family were there.

The lack of a major reaction in the streets left Mr. Putin, for the moment, seemingly with the upper hand over Europe and the United States in the contest for Ukraine, a former Soviet republic of 46 million that is culturally, economically and militarily intertwined with Russia.

It is by far the most populous and influential country in the region that has remained outside the European orbit.

On Wednesday, Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, appeared to be falling back on a less ambitious goal for the country, hinting at a solution that would integrate Ukraine’s economy with the European Union while not ruling out customs-free trade with Russia, as had been stipulated in the failed association agreement.

In her first address to lawmakers since being sworn in for a third term as chancellor, Ms. Merkel said Wednesday that the European Union’s offer to Ukraine “remains on the table.”

Ms. Merkel said that while she regretted Mr. Yanukovich’s decision not to sign the agreement, Germany would work “intensively” to ensure there is an end to the current tug of war between Europe and Russia over Ukraine’s future.

“It cannot be that a situation arises where a land that lies between Russia and the European Union must make a basic decision, that will always be seen as either for the one or the other,” Ms. Merkel said.

She warned, however, that Ukraine had to guarantee basic democratic rights to its citizens.

The chancellor’s new foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who held the position in her first government from 2005 to 2009, travels to Warsaw on Thursday, where he is to hold talks with three Polish officials: his Polish counterpart, Radek Sikorski; the Polish president, Bronislaw Komorowski; and Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former president who represented the European Union in negotiations with Ukraine over the failed agreement.

Mr. Steinmeier’s party, the Social Democrats, have traditionally been softer on Russia than the chancellor’s conservative Christian Democratic Union.

Source: The New York Times