Ukraine ‘on brink of civil war’, warns former president

Parliament debates offering an amnesty to anyone arrested in protests, as attempts are made to avert full-scale crisis

Ukraine was said to be “on the brink of civil war”, as negotiations stalled between the government and opposition parties.

In an emotional speech that was given a standing ovation at the opening of a special parliamentary session, former Ukrainian president Leonid Kravchuk said: “All the world acknowledges and Ukraine acknowledges that the state is on the brink of civil war.”

He told politicians: “It is a revolution. It is a dramatic situation in which we must act with the greatest responsibility.” Following violent clashes between protesters and police, Ukraine's government has this week made concessions to the opposition. The Prime Minister and his cabinet resigned, and parliament repealed harsh anti-protest laws passed this month to curb the demonstrations in which at least five people have died. Many have blamed a combination of these laws and police brutality for radicalising the previously peaceful protests.

Despite the concessions, a sprawling opposition camp in Kiev's Independence Square - known as the Maidan - remains in situ, and protesters continue to occupy some government ministries. Opposition leaders have said they will continue to push for their main goals - changes to the constitution and snap elections.

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk speaks to lawmakers during an emergency session of parliament in Kiev, 29 January 2014

An amnesty for protesters was the subject of the debate in parliament, but parties could not agree on conditions for the bill.

“The key condition under the draft bill is to let the Maidan go and only afterwards all protesters will get an amnesty,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of Ukraine's main opposition bloc, said. “This is unacceptable for us.” Demonstrations began in November in response to the government's decision to spurn a political and trade deal with the EU in favour of a £9bn bailout agreement from Russia to keep Ukraine's struggling economy afloat. The EU has blamed a cocktail of blackmail and bribery from Moscow for Mr Yanukovych's decision to pull out of the pact in November. Russian President Vladimir has urged the EU not to interfere in the former Soviet country's affairs. Despite Mr Putin's warnings, the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited Kiev today to hold talks with the president and opposition leaders. She said there was “no question that the importance of finding a quick and peaceful way forward is on everyone's minds”.