UK & World News

  • 17 December 2013, 18:41

Russia And Ukraine Sign Deal Despite Protests

Ukraine has signed a fiercly controversial trade agreement which sees it forge closer ties with Russia rather than the EU.

Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to slash the cost of gas sold to Ukraine and promised to buy billions of government bonds.

The deal comes amid massive protests in the Ukraine over the government rejecting closer ties with the European Union in favour of a new alliance with its powerful neighbour.

Mr Putin agreed the deal after talks in Moscow with Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych.

Protesters have been camped on Kiev's main square for nearly a month, angry at the prospect of being drawn back under the Kremlin's influence.

Heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, leader of Ukraine's Punch party, challenged Mr Yanukovich to call an early election.

"He has given up Ukraine's national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian," Mr Klitschko told crowds on Kiev's Independence Square.

"He (Yanukovich) is my personal opponent. I am challenging him in the ring," he added.

The deal sees Russian state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom cutting the price of gas deliveries from January 2014 to $268 (165) per 1,000 cubic metres, from $400 (246) per 1,000 cubic metres.

Mr Putin also said Russia would buy $15bn (9.2bn) of Ukraine's government bonds.

The Russian President tried to ease concerns over the deal by saying the two leaders had not discussed the idea of Kiev joining a Kremlin-led free trade bloc.

"I would like to calm everyone down, today we have not discussed the issue of Ukraine joining the Customs Union at all," Mr Putin said.

The ex-Soviet nation has been at the heart of a diplomatic tug of war between east and west since Mr Yanukovich's refusal to sign an EU trade deal last month.

The demonstrations began when Ukraine suspended talks with the EU on November 21 and have grown in size and intensity after unsuccessful attempts by police to clear the protest camp.

Hundreds of thousands took to the streets on December 15 in a huge rally dubbed the 'day of dignity', where they demanded the resignation of the government and called for European human rights.

However, the country remains deeply divided between the European-leaning west and Russian-speaking east.

Workers from the president's industrial heartland staged rival demonstrations in the capital over the weekend.

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