US Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to meet Ukrainian opposition leaders for the first time today in a show of support for pro-democracy protesters locked in a deadly two-month stand-off with Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Among those slated to hold talks with the top US diplomat on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference are former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, who leads the UDAR (Punch) party, and opposition politician Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
Moscow angrily dismissed the meeting following warnings by Russian President Vladimir Putin against foreign interference in the ex-Soviet country’s worst crisis since its 1991 independence.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin yesterday tweeted that Kerry’s planned meetings, which are also expected to include Ukrainian pop star Ruslana, were a “circus.”
“It’s also necessary to involve Verka-Serdyuchka in the talks,” he said in apparent sarcasm, referring to Ukraine’s bombastic drag queen pop star.
“Her/his authoritative opinion should be heard by the White House and taken into account!” Rogozin tweeted.
The announcement of the Kerry meeting came hours after Yanukovych savaged the “irresponsible” opposition for inflaming tensions after he unexpectedly went on sick leave on Thursday with no end in sight to the turmoil.
The street rallies first erupted when the president backed out of a key pact with the EU in November last year in favor of closer ties with Moscow. The unrest has since spiraled into an uprising seeking the president’s removal.
The opposition has refused to abandon the protests despite a string of concessions from the authorities, including a promised amnesty for jailed demonstrators and Yanukovych’s acceptance of his prime minister’s resignation.
In the run-up to the meeting, Kerry held a conference call with top opposition leaders, while the US administration said it was consulting with Congress about possible sanctions on Ukraine.
“We’ve been cautiously optimistic that this dialogue between the government and the opposition is beginning to bear fruit,” a senior US Department of State official said.
“There’s the question of whether they can move on to form a government of national unity,” the official said.
Representatives of the Ukrainian government were also expected to attend the Munich talks.
Klitschko and his allies on Thursday met with senior EU diplomat Helga Schmid and UN special coordinator Robert Serry in Kiev, his party said.
After his sick leave announcement, Yanukovych issued a defiant statement accusing the opposition of behaving irresponsibly by not calling off the protests.
“The opposition is continuing to inflame the situation and is calling on people to stand in the freezing cold due to the political ambitions of several leaders,” the Ukrainian leader said in a statement.
However, in a rare show of contrition, Yanukovych also admitted he needed to take more account of the country’s mood.
“From my side, I will show more understanding for the demands and ambitions of people, taking into account the mistakes that authorities always make,” he said.