Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday told the West to stay out of his country’s political crisis, after top European and US diplomats visited the protests that have raged for a month in central Kiev.
In the first live interview with Ukraine’s main television channels since the crisis broke last month, Yanukovych said a bailout deal with Moscow did not contravene Kiev’s EU hopes and that Ukraine could still join clauses of a rival Kremlin-led trade pact.
Both the United States and the European Union have sided with opposition protesters, and senior Western diplomatic figures have pointedly met with their leaders and attended protests in the Ukrainian capital.
“I am categorically against others coming to our country and teaching us how to live,” Yanukovych told reporters.
“What is very important is that this is our internal matter, and that other countries do not intervene in our internal affairs.”
He slammed the opposition to his rule led by world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, former foreign minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and ultra-nationalist leader Oleg Tygnybok.
“I am categorically against politicians initiating such revolutionary processes,” said Yanukovych, who faces a presidential poll in 2015. “Wait for the elections and the Ukrainian people will have their say.”
“There is no need for us to run around searching somewhere for masters who have interests in Ukraine. There is no need to humiliate ourselves like that.”
During the month-long protests, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton visited the protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square where Victoria Nuland, assistant US Secretary of State gave out cakes to protesters.
Yanukovych to run in 2015?
Russia’s stunning bailout package has infuriated the Ukrainian opposition leading mass protests against Yanukovych, whom they have accused of selling out to the Kremlin after rejecting an integration deal with the European Union.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday agreed to buy US$15 billion of Ukraine’s debt in eurobonds and slash Ukraine’s gas bill by a third.
“Here (in the signed documents) there is no contradiction between Ukraine’s course and whatever kind of integration,” Yanukovych said.
“We are not talking about integration, we are talking about economic relations,” he said, referring to ties with Russia which has pressed Kiev to join a Moscow-led Customs Union.
The Ukrainian government last month unexpectedly halted work on key political and free trade agreements with the European Union, sparking the largest demonstrations since Ukraine’s pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004.
Yanukovych said that Ukraine “took a pause” to decide on “what conditions we are signing the free trade zone agreement (with the EU).”
“When we see that this is advantageous to us then no doubt a positive decision will be taken,” the Ukrainian president said.
Yanukovych also acknowledged that Kiev could adhere to certain clauses of the Customs Union, which includes ex-Soviet Belarus and Kazakhstan.
“The government of Ukraine has received these (Customs Union) documents and is examining their clauses. And after drawing conclusions, we will decide which clauses (of the Customs Union) to join,” Yanukovych said in the interview.
The president also said if his approval ratings were low he would not run for re-election in 2015.
“If, tentatively speaking, my approval rating would be low and would not be promising, I will not prevent the country from developing and going forward.”
Recent opinion polls showed that if the 2015 election went into a second round run-off, Yanukovych would lose to Klitschko.