Ukraine asks EU for €20bn in return for signing Association Agreement

Move comes just hours after the government sent in thousands of special forces to destroy a pro-EU protest camp in the centre of Kiev
  • @MaxRTucker

The Ukrainian government has asked the EU for €20 billion to sign an Association Agreement with the bloc, just hours after sending in thousands of special forces to destroy a pro-EU protest camp in the centre of the capital, Kiev.

This afternoon Prime Minister Azarov announced the government would be sending a delegation to Brussels to discuss new terms for signing the agreement, having failed to end a non-stop pro-EU rally that opposition leaders describe as a "revolution".

For the fourth week running Ukrainians had turned out in the tens and hundreds of thousands against a government decision to abandon the historic free trade and political co-operation agreement with the EU.

In an apparent display of contempt for European leaders, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych ordered police to clear demonstrators from Kiev's main square early this morning. The order was given during the visit of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, and shortly after she left the camp.

But President Yanukovych now appears to be losing his grip on power as he veers between Russia and the EU in a desperate bid for funds to stave off a deepening financial crisis in the country. According to Reuters, Ukraine needs around $60 billion dollars to make debt repayments due next year.

Thousands of demonstrators resisted and eventually prevailed in an enormous shoving match with special forces tasked with clearing the square.

Yanukovych returned to negotiations with the EU High Representative during the afternoon in the face of strong international criticism.

US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed "disgust" at the decision to “meet peaceful protesters with riot police, bulldozers, and batons, rather than with respect for democratic rights and human dignity.”

During the struggle government forces destroyed tents and barricades around the square before retreating at daybreak as tens of thousands of citizens rushed to the defence of demonstrators.

Police were also forced to abandon an attempt to reclaim the occupied City Hall as opposition activists used water hoses and fireworks against officers pinned between the building and an increasingly large and angry crowd.

By this afternoon, protesters had already rebuilt barricades and pitched new tents. Kiev taxi drivers announced a general strike in order to ferry more demonstrators to the city centre, and thousands of Ukrainians from the Western part of the country, which shares borders and ethnic ties with four EU countries, boarded opposition buses heading for the capital. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Internal Affairs told Interfax News Agency that they would not rule out the possibility of using force against protesters again.

The EU had initially planned to sign the Agreement with Ukraine last month, and was shocked when President Yanukovych walked away from the negotiating table a week beforehand, citing overwhelming pressure from Moscow.

Alarmed at the prospect of ceding influence over its former Soviet satellite to the West, Russia introduced trade restrictions on Ukrainian imports and threatened to hike gas prices if Ukraine signed the Agreement.