24th Oct 2016

EU chairman blames Yanukovych for 'destabilising' Ukraine

EU Council chief Herman Van Rompuy has blamed Ukrainian authorities for “destabilisng” Ukraine, as protests fan out to the east and west of Kiev.

The Belgian politician, who chairs EU summits, spoke in Warsaw on Saturday (24 January) alongside Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

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“I strongly deplore and condemn the unjustified use of force and brutality by the Ukrainian authorities against demonstrators - with the vast majority still being peaceful demonstrators,” he said.

“Recent restrictions on fundamental freedoms … will only further destabilise the country,” he added.

The Polish leader also said it is up to the Ukrainian authorities to end "the cycle of violence.”

“The protesters do not question the unity of Ukraine. The opposition is not postulating a division of the country,” Tusk noted.

The meeting, in Warsaw, came amid escalating tension on the other side of the Polish-Ukrainian border, just 300km to the east of the Polish capital.

The opposition movement over the weekend rejected President Viktor Yanukovych’s offer to give two of its leading MPs big jobs in a government reshuffle.

Activists also seized control of extra government buildings, including, on Sunday night, the justice ministry.

Outside Kiev, protests have flared up in 15 other cities.

Most of them are in western Ukraine, where the majority Ukrainian speakers and Roman Catholics feel closer to the EU. But others are deep in Russophone and Christian Orthodox eastern Ukraine, in cities such as Dnipropetrovsk and Zaporizhzhya, in a sign of Yanukovych’s weakening grip on power.

The developments have prompted Ukrainian justice minister Olena Lukash to threaten to call a state of emergency.

Defence minister Pavel Lebedev - like Lukash, a pro-Russian hardliner - also made a statement.

He told Russian media that Ukraine’s constitution forbids the use of the army to suppress protests. But despite his reassurance, some Ukrainian activists saw the verbal intervention by the military chief as a veiled threat.

Van Rompuy and Tusk’s remarks go against Yanukovych’s line that the opposition is being driven by far-right extremists.

Tusk also risked angering Yanukovych and his main sponsor, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, by calling for €3 million of EU money to be channeled to opposition groups, or “the development of citizens’ movements.”

Meanwhile, Van Rompuy held up Poland’s economic growth since the fall of Communism in 1989 as an example of what Ukraine could achieve if it makes pro-EU reforms.

“Today, only 24 years later, Poland is three times more prosperous than Ukraine,” he said alongside Tusk.

The EU chairman also gave encouragement to the Ukrainian opposition at a gala event with Polish business chiefs.

Looking back to Cold-War-era divisions in Europe, he said: “Poland … should have been a member [of the EU] from the start. History decided otherwise. But the Polish people changed the course of history.”

“Nobody can prevent the Ukrainian people from seeing their dreams fulfilled one day,” he added.

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