KIEV – Opposition lawmakers on Friday booed Ukraine’s prime minister, whose government shelved a landmark deal with the European Union, while turning toward Moscow.
Ukraine’s Cabinet on Thursday suspended preparations for signing a free trade and a political association agreement with the EU at next week’s summit, and the opposition has called on Ukrainians to turn up for a massive anti-government rally to protest the decision.
The move shocked many in Ukraine after President Yanukovych had promised two months ago that it will “absolutely” be signed. The turnaround marked a big victory for Moscow, which has worked aggressively to derail the deal and keep Ukraine in its orbit.
Prime Minister Mykola Azarov told lawmakers Friday that Ukraine cannot afford to lose trade with Russia and suggested the EU did not offer Ukraine any compensation for that. He also complained that the conditions the International Monetary Fund has set for rescuing its struggling economy with a bailout loan were impossible to fulfill.
“What will be our compensation for the huge losses from losing the Customs Union market, what, I am asking you?” Azarov asked referring to an economic alliance of former Soviet republics being pushed by Moscow. “Unfortunately, we did not receive a realistic answer to this question.”
The enraged opposition lawmakers dressed in sweaters reading “Freedom to Ukraine” and “Ukraine is Europe” booed Azarov, started throwing stacks of paper at his ministers, and headed toward his seat in order to block the speech.
Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk denounced the government’s decision as state treason, accusing Yanukovych of selling out to Moscow in exchange for cash and ensuring his re-election in 2015.
“This is a well-planned scenario by Yanukovych: how to sell the Ukrainian state and to buy himself a seat of the governor of Little Russia as part of the great Russian empire,” he said.
Yatsenyuk urged Ukrainians to show up for an opposition rally Sunday on Kiev’s central square, the epicenter of massive 2004 protests dubbed the Orange Revolution, which annulled Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted victory in a presidential vote and helped bring his pro-Western opponents to power.
“We will be fighting against the anti-Ukrainian, anti-European regime,” Yatsenyuk said. “Come and show who is the boss in Ukraine, fight for your rights, for your European future.”
Meanwhile, a smaller protest was already under way in the center of Kiev in preparation for Sunday’s demonstration. Several dozen activists, wrapped in the yellow-and-blue Ukrainian flags, hid from rain under umbrellas. Some danced to Ukrainian national tunes blaring from speakers, others chatted to each other.
“Europe is our future, in Europe a person is treated with respect,” said Vitaliy Tokaryuk, 25, a real estate agent who had spent the night on the Independence Square.
In 2010 presidential elections, Yanukovych narrowly defeated Orange Revolution heroine Yulia Tymoshenko, riding a wave of political apathy and resentment over infighting in the Orange camp. The next year, Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, was sentenced to seven years in prison on abuse of office charges. She insists her jailing is part of Yanukovych’s plot to keep her from challenging him in the next election in 2015.
The EU has condemned Tymoshenko’s jailing as politically motivated and has demanded her release as a condition for signing the association agreement with Ukraine. Yanukovych’s supporters in the legislature Thursday refused to support a bill allowing her release.