Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses militants of trying to overthrow Ukraine's government

Protesters are seeking to force President Viktor Yanukovych from office with a general strike

Kiev

Russian President Vladimir Putin said protests in Ukraine against its decision to abandon a European Union integration pact are an attempt to bring down its legitimate rulers.

Protesters blockaded the main government building, seeking to force President Viktor Yanukovych from office with a general strike after hundreds of thousands demonstrated against his decision to abandon the pact, which was scheduled to be signed last week.

Weekend demonstrations, which saw violent clashes with the police, drew as many as 350,000 people – the biggest public rally in the ex-Soviet state since the “Orange revolution” against sleaze and electoral fraud.

During a visit to Armenia, Mr Putin told reporters: “This is not a revolution but a very well prepared protest that in my view wasn’t prepared for today but... for the (Ukrainian) presidential election campaign in March 2015. This is an attempt to shake the current and, I want to emphasise, legitimate authorities in the country.”

Mr Putin said the protesters seemed “very well prepared and trained militant groups” – hinting that outsiders had been involved in training the demonstrators, an accusation he made against participants in Ukraine’s “Orange revolution” which overturned a stolen election nine years ago.

Yanukovych’s decision to abandon a trade pact with the EU  and instead seek closer economic ties with Russia has stirred deep passions in a country where many people yearn to join the European mainstream and escape Moscow’s orbit.

The resulting unrest has hammered Ukraine’s financial markets, underlining the fragile state of the economy. The central bank was forced to intervene to prop up the hryvnia and threatened more action, underlining Kiev’s vulnerability as it seeks more than $17bn (£10.3bn) next year to meet gas bills and debt repayments.

In a video statement, its chairman said the bank would not introduce any financial restrictions. “I urge everyone to have confidence in the banking system and maintain their savings,” Ihor Sorkin said.

Ukraine is divided between those who see stability in close ties with Russia and those who see a more prosperous future in Europe. Since election in February 2010, Yanukovych has sought to straddle the divide, reassuring Ukrainians he could pursue close ties with Europe while managing relations with Moscow.

Even some supporters were shocked by the abruptness with which his government announced it was abandoning a long-awaited pact with the EU in favour of reviving economic ties with Russia. Scenes over the weekend of police beating demonstrators hardened opinion against him.

“Yanukovych will do whatever Putin tells him to do,” said Oleksander, 49, on Kiev’s Independence Square, where protesters are establishing tented camps to dig in for a long campaign.

“He’s been losing his legitimacy for a long time. His decision to send police in to beat up children was the last straw.” 

Reuters

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Service Engineers - Doncaster / Hull

£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...

Recruitment Genius: Employability / Recruitment Adviser

£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...