Thu, Feb 06, 2014 - Page 7 News List

Putin, Yanukovych to meet on sidelines of Games: Kremlin

AFP, MOSCOW and KIEV

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych will discuss the political crisis in Kiev when the two meet on the sidelines of the opening ceremony for the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi tomorrow, the Kremlin said.

“He will indeed be there and they will indeed meet,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “They will discuss bilateral ties.”

Earlier this week, Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs Leonid Kozhara said Yanukovych planned to travel to Sochi for the start of the Games.

Yanukovych, who was set to meet EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton yesterday, has been battling two months of protests against his rule and has accepted the resignation of his prime minister and the entire Cabinet in a key concession to the opposition.

Ashton dined with opposition leaders after arriving in Kiev on Tuesday.

In December last year, Russia promised Ukraine a US$15 billion bailout package to prop up the ex-Soviet nation’s recession-hit economy and has already released the first US$3 billion tranche.

However, Putin last week put the financing on hold pending the formation of a new government in Kiev. Ashton has raised the possibility of financial aid from Brussels and Washington, but one EU diplomat has said that it would be hard to match Russia’s package.

Meanwhile, in a fresh bid to try to overcome the two-month stalemate between the government and the opposition, the Ukrainian parliament was set to debate constitutional amendments to curb presidential powers.

In a major concession to the protest movement, Yanukovych is also considering calling an early election to resolve the crisis, according to a senior lawmaker.

Yet the opposition accuses the Ukrainian leader, who faces an election next year, of seeking to win time rather than put an end to a turmoil that left several people dead and turned parts of the capital, Kiev, into a battle zone.

After meeting Yanukovych for another round of talks, boxer-turned-politician Vitali Klitschko said the president told him that constitutional reform could take up to six months.

“I told him we don’t have time,” the 42-year-old pugilist said, adding that the president did not appear to be willing to solve the crisis. “This is an irresponsible position for a state leader.”

US Vice President Joe Biden urged Yanukovych on Tuesday to pursue dialogue and compromise as he called for the “immediate” pulling back of riot police.

In a phone call, Biden “emphasized that the only viable path to peace and stability in Ukraine is through continued dialogue and genuine compromise to form a new government that can earn the confidence of the Ukrainian people,” the White House said.

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