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updated: 2/21/2014 7:13 AM

Ukraine to sign accord to end crisis after deadliest protests

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  • Anti-government protesters lead policemen, foreground, captured earlier in the day, towards a bus to be released in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday.

    Anti-government protesters lead policemen, foreground, captured earlier in the day, towards a bus to be released in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday.
    Associated Press

Bloomberg News

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych agreed to a plan for resolving the political crisis that threatened to split the country after meeting through the night with European officials.

The accord will be signed at 12 p.m. in Kiev, the presidential administration said in a statement. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Europe 1 radio that it's premature to say an agreement has been reached.

Ukrainian authorities reported 77 protesters have been killed and 369 hospitalized in violence that began Feb. 18. European Union governments imposed sanctions on some Ukrainian officials, and diplomatic efforts in Kiev and Brussels left Yanukovych to consider mounting calls to step aside. Ukrainian markets rebounded yesterday as investors anticipated a resolution after three months of anti-government demonstrations.

"There is widespread horror in the European Union as well as in the United Kingdom at the scale of the loss of innocent life and the events of the last 48 hours," U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said yesterday after meeting his EU counterparts in Brussels.

There were no reports of fighting during the night or this morning at the protest camp in Kiev.

Early Elections

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Poland presented a EU plan calling for Ukraine's constitution to be amended by mid-year and for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held by the end of 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin sent an envoy to Ukraine at Yanukovych's request.

Europe and Ukraine are still in the midst of negotiations, and Europe needs to be "prudent" until the accord becomes effective, Fabius said.

EU foreign ministers decided to freeze assets belonging to Ukrainian officials, deny them travel visas, suspend export licenses for equipment such as riot gear used to quash the protests. The U.S. also is considering targeted sanctions, after President Barack Obama threatened to penalize Ukrainian leaders if the violence escalated.

Standard & Poor's cut Ukraine to CCC, eight levels below an investment rating, from CCC+ and kept its outlook negative, after the political situation "deteriorated substantially."

Truce Crumples

A truce agreed to Feb. 19 crumbled yesterday in the deadliest day of protests as skirmishes erupted at the protest camp on Independence Square in Kiev. Security forces were given the green light to fire live rounds, as sniper shots felled protesters and police officers and each side accused the other of escalating the clashes. Parliament was evacuated and the meeting between Yanukovych and the foreign ministers was switched to the presidential palace.

Violence in the country of 45 million, a key east-west energy route, has snowballed this week amid frustration among protesters that demands for snap elections and governance changes were being ignored. Russian-backed Yanukovych ordered a nationwide anti-terrorism sweep to end the uprising, with Russia and Western nations blaming one another for the escalation. Parliament rejected the move yesterday and voted to send troops to their barracks and release detained protesters.

"The main task today is to stop the bloodshed, shooting at people on the streets, which the authorities are responsible for," opposition leader Vitali Klitschko, the ex-world boxing champion, said yesterday in parliament. "First of all, the army must be pulled back so brothers aren't attacking brothers."

'Unpredictable Risks'

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Yanukovych to urge all sides to end the violence and implement a truce. She and French President Francois Hollande are backing the threat of sanctions.

The "main responsibility for this lies with the leadership of the state," Merkel told Yanukovych yesterday, according to a statement e-mailed by her spokesman, Steffen Seibert. Only talks on forming a new government and pursuing constitutional reform with "swift, substantial results" can yield a lasting solution, she said. "Any playing for time will further intensify the conflict and bears unpredictable risks."

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden warned Yanukovych in a phone call yesterday that the Obama administration is prepared to impose sanctions on officials responsible for the violence, the White House said in a statement that didn't detail what the penalties would be or when they might be announced.

Biden Warning

Biden "strongly condemned the violence against civilians" in Kiev and urged Yanukovych to immediately pull back all security forces and take "tangible" steps to negotiate with the opposition, the White House said.

Russia is blaming the EU and the U.S. for emboldening protesters to take up arms against the government. The threat of sanctions is encouraging the opposition to take an intractable position and is similar to "blackmail," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters in Baghdad yesterday. Ukrainian extremists are trying to provoke a civil war, he said.

Putin sent Russia's human rights ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin, to Kiev for talks with the opposition, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said yesterday.

Ukrainian bonds rebounded from a record low yesterday as EU sanctions added to pressure on Yanukovych to find an end to the crisis. The yield on the government's $1 billion of notes due in June tumbled 12 percentage points from a record to 30 percent in Kiev. The notes fell the most on record on Feb. 19 as the deadliest clashes in the standoff overshadowed Russia's decision to resume a $15 billion bailout plan.

Regional Unrest

The government risks failing to service its debt unless the situation improves, the S&P's said today in its statement on the rating cut.

Ukraine's equity gauge climbed 3.9 percent yesterday, reversing a drop of as much as 3.4 percent. The hryvnia, which is managed by the central bank, was unchanged versus the dollar after weakening earlier.

The unrest isn't limited to Ukraine's capital. Lawmakers in Lviv on the Polish border on Feb. 19 ousted their Yanukovych- appointed governor, set up an autonomous government and declared allegiance to the opposition. Protesters have seized government and security headquarters in at least four other regions.

Opposition Skeptical

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, outlining the EU plan to reporters in Warsaw, said some in the opposition viewed the EU plan "with skepticism" since Ukraine's government "hasn't honored agreements in the past."

"Our worst-case scenario, a civil war, has become very real," Tusk said.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski also participated in the talks.

The EU's immediate aim is an end to the bloodshed in Ukraine, not Yanukovych's removal, European Parliament President Martin Schulz said on Germany's ZDF television. "The president won't resign and the people who are demanding his resignation don't have any way to force him," said Schulz.

The EU decided "as a matter of urgency" to introduce targeted sanctions including asset freezes and visa bans against "those responsible for human rights violations, violence and use of excessive force," the foreign ministers said in a joint statement after their meeting in Brussels.

The 28-nation EU also stepped up calls for Ukrainian constitutional changes that would pave the way for fair elections. Irish Foreign Minister Eamon Gilmore, speaking in Brussels, said that he expected those who are to be targeted by the sanctions to be named by the end of the week.

--With assistance from Brian Parkin, Patrick Donahue, Hellmuth Tromm and Tony Czuczka in Berlin, Helene Fouquet in Paris, Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev, Piotr Skolimowski in Warsaw, Jonathan Tirone in Vienna, Ian Wishart, Jones Hayden and Jonathan Stearns in Brussels, Scott Rose in Moscow and Joe Sobczyk in Washington.

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