German FM visits pro-EU protesters in Ukraine

05.12.13 @ 09:29

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle has voiced support for Ukrainian protesters in a surprise visit to the Maidan.

  • Westerwelle, pictured right, and Klitschko in Kiev on Wednesday (Photo: auswaertiges-amt.de)

His ministry on Wednesday (4 December) published a picture of him strolling next to barricades in the Maidan square in Kiev city centre with opposition leader and champion boxer Vitaly Klitschko.

Westerwelle said in a statement: "We are not indifferent to the fate of Ukraine … You can see from these demonstrations in the streets that the hearts of the people of Ukraine beat for the European Union."

He added: "This is a profoundly European matter that we are observing in Ukraine."

His visit comes after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych shocked the EU last week by refusing to sign an association pact.

EU diplomats were equally shocked when more than half a million Ukrainians joined pro-EU protests at the weekend, however.

Demonstrators still occupy some official buildings.

But government promises to rein in police, to reshuffle the cabinet and to relaunch EU treaty talks have calmed things down.

Ukraine sees Germany, unlike France, as a real supporter of its EU integration.

But Westerwelle's Maidan moment is likely to annoy Yanukovych.

The Ukrainian leader tried and failed to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the run-up to the EU treaty fiasco. His diplomats are also urging the EU not to egg on anti-Yanukovych feeling.

The moment could be a passing one, however.

Westerwelle is to leave his post by the end of the year and might well be replaced by the pro-Russian former FM Walter Steinmeier.

For his part, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has warned the West not to meddle in the Kremlin's former domain.

He said in the margins of a Nato meeting in Brussels on Wednesday: "We encourage everybody not to interfere [in Ukraine]." He added that Yanukovych has a "sovereign right to ratify or not ratify a document [the EU pact]."

Westerwelle will on Thursday also attend a meeting of the Vienna-based pro-democracy club, the OSCE, in Kiev.

Polish foreign minister Radek Sikorski decided to join him at the last minute.

But EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton, US secretary of state John Kerry and the British and French foreign ministers are not going.

Kerry on Wednesday went to Moldova instead because it did initial an EU treaty despite Russian threats.

He thanked its leaders for their "courage."

He said: "We are convinced that any country ought to be able to make a choice of where it wants to affiliate … without external pressures."

He also listed the EU and US financial aid which Moldova got in recent years in a hint of more to come.

Financial crisis

Meanwhile, Yanukovych is in China amid efforts to get cheap loans or grants from Beijing, Brussels or Moscow to prevent a state default.

Ukraine has debt repayments of $17 billion next year, but just $20 billion in foreign currency reserves and the same credit rating as Cyprus or Greece.

The political crisis has seen the hryvnia fall in value.

But some EU diplomats say a financial crisis could be useful for the Ukrainian chief.

"He could blame it on the EU and on Russia while making himself rich. In the past few years, we have seen members of his 'familia' buy up Ukrainian assets at rock-bottom prices as the economic situation gets worse," one EU contact said.

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