Ukraine will restart talks with EU, president says

Ukraine will restart talks with EU, president says
People attend a rally to support pro-European integration at the Independence Square in central Kiev, December 12, 2013. Ukrainian protesters stood their ground after a sweep by riot police and their leaders dismissed an offer of talks from a president they say must quit for favouring ties with Russia over the European Union.

UKRAINIAN security forces on Wednesday retreated from an overnight face-off with protesters after moving in to clear a protest camp, following President Viktor Yanukovych's promise to restart talks on an association agreement with the European Union.

"We tasked the government to accelerate this work," Mr Yanukovych said during a televised roundtable discussion on Tuesday.

The overnight moves by hundreds of black-clad police with visors and helmets, as reported by news agencies, were the biggest attempt the authorities have taken so far to disperse weeks of protests.

It was Mr Yanukovych's decision to pull out of the talks with the EU and turn to Russia for economic assistance and political support that prompted the protests, Ukraine's biggest since the so-called Orange Revolution of 2004.

Mr Yanukovych hopes that by hinting at the possibility of a resumption of the talks with Europe, he would overcome the gravest challenge to his rule.

But this apparent concession may have come too late to calm down the sharply polarised country. And it is unlikely to affect the real game which will decide Ukraine's future: the diplomatic showdown between Russia and the West, both of which wish to include Ukraine within their sphere of influence.

Since gaining independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the nation of 46 million has been evenly divided between residents of the Russian-speaking eastern part who look to Moscow as a source of stability and those, mainly from the Ukrainian-speaking west, who want to join the EU and leave the orbit of their former Soviet master.

Previous Ukrainian leaders sought to placate both sides of the electorate by sounding hopeful on relations with the EU, while also remaining friendly towards Russia on which Ukraine depends for trade and vital supplies of oil and gas.

But Mr Yanukovych, a native Russian speaker from the eastern part, has broken with this tradition by rebuffing the EU, opting instead for closer political ties with Moscow.

Mr Yanukovych claims that his choice does not preclude future deals with the EU and is simply a matter of necessity: "We cannot talk about the future without talking about restoring trade relations with Russia," he said on Tuesday. But opposition leaders accuse him of "betraying" Ukraine's independence.

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