Spokesman: Customs union not discussed
KIEV, Ukraine — The spokesman for Russia’s president says Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Vladimir Putin didn’t discuss Ukraine joining a Russian-led customs union, one of the issues driving large protests now in their third week in Kiev.
The protests started after Yanukovych backed away from signing a long-expected agreement with the European Union to deepen economic ties. Russia has pressured Ukraine to join a trade bloc also including Kazakhstan and Belarus. Protesters denounce attempts to bring Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit and contend Yanukovych aims to sell out Ukraine to Russia.
Putin and Yanukovych met Friday in Sochi. Details were few, but Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying today that “the question of Ukraine’s possibly joining the customs union was not discussed in Sochi.”
Peskov also said the presidents paid special attention to “cooperation in the energy sphere.” Ukraine’s dependence on Russian natural gas gives Moscow considerable leverage, and economically struggling Ukraine has sought to negotiate lower prices. Former Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power in 2003 mass protests that prefigured Ukraine’s Orange Revolution of 2004, met today with Ukrainian opposition leader Viltali Klitschko and lashed out at Moscow.
“What’s happening today in Ukraine is the seizure by the political raiders of Putin’s Russia of a sovereign state in the center of Europe,” Saakashvili said, according to the Interfax news agency.