Ukrainian protesters control landmark plaza
KIEV, Ukraine — Even as thousands of protesters occupied Independence Square, blockaded the Cabinet Ministry and continued to demand his resignation, President Viktor F. Yanukovych of Ukraine on Monday defended his refusal to sign accords with the European Union, said he was on the verge of securing lower gas prices from Russia, and urged opposition politicians to wait for presidential elections in 2015 to challenge him.
On the day after a huge protest by hundreds of thousands of people in Kiev, the capital, and by thousands more in other cities, Yanukovych struck a casual pose, sitting in an armchair for an interview with four television stations. He seemed to brush aside the unrest in the country, saying he would leave as scheduled for a state visit to China on Tuesday and taking the opportunity to note that the government intended to increase financing for road repair next year.
To many here, it was unclear if Yanukovych’s calm demeanor reflected supreme confidence, complete denial or some combination of the two. Other political leaders in Ukraine acknowledged that the authorities were facing a serious civil disturbance, including the occupation by protesters of Kiev City Hall and the large Trade Unions building nearby, as well as a blockade of the Cabinet Ministry, which prevented top officials from reaching their offices.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, in a meeting with Western ambassadors, complained about the widening unrest, saying, “This has all the signs of a coup.” Opposition leaders in Parliament said they would call for vote of no-confidence in the government Tuesday, while protest leaders appeared to be digging in for a long battle on the streets, establishing a tent city in Independence Square that included first aid stations and canteens.
Yanukovych’s remarks during the interview suggested that he was reaching out even further for help from Russia, where President Vladimir V. Putin on Monday remarked, “The events in Ukraine seem more like a pogrom than a revolution.” Russia had exerted heavy pressure to convince Yanukovych to scuttle the political and free trade agreements with Europe, threatening trade sanctions that could decimate the Ukrainian economy. Yanukovych, in the television interview, said that he planned to initiate negotiations this week with Russia to extend a strategic partnership agreement dating from 1997. He said that both Ukraine and Russia were acting in their own economic interests by seeking to strengthen ties, and he took a jab at the protesters who demanded that he sign the accords with Europe, suggesting that they were not acting in accordance with Western values.