Ukrainian protesters remain massed outside government buildings in Kyiv for a sixth day as the standoff continues over the government’s rejection of closer ties with the European Union.
The EU has also responded to a claim from Ukrainian officials that they were sending delegations on December 4 to Brussels and Moscow, saying it had no plans to meet with Ukrainian envoys.
But a separate Ukrainian delegation is expected to hold talks in the Russian capital.
The government of Prime Minister Mykola Azarov survived a motion to hold a no-confidence vote in parliament on December 3, but opposition protesters have vowed to continue to demand the government’s resignation.
Many remain camped out near government buildings to keep up the pressure on President Viktor Yanukovych and his political allies.
Yanukovych, meanwhile, has arrived in China for an official visit.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has offered new backing for Ukraine's opposition, which was angered by a government reversal that threw up possible roadblocks to the country's stated goal of EU membership and appeared to defer considerably to relations with Russia.
Kerry said that Washington urges the Ukrainian government to "listen to the voices of its people who want to live in freedom and in opportunity and prosperity."
Speaking at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Kerry cited what he described as "unbelievable numbers" of Ukrainian protesters, who have turned out in the tens of thousands or more -- the opposition has claimed 500,000 in some cases -- to express anger over the snub to the EU.
Kerry also warned against a repeat of the violence between security forces and protesters that broke out in Kyiv on the weekend.
"We urge the Ukrainian government to listen to the voices of its people who want to live in freedom, and in opportunity, and prosperity," Kerry said. "And we urge all sides to conduct themselves peacefully. Violence has no place in a modern European state."
Kerry indirectly criticized pressure on Ukraine from neighboring power Russia, saying Ukraine was the subject of an "inappropriate...bidding war" over its future direction.
WATCH: Protests outside a government building in the Ukrainian capital on December 3.
The protest movement -- the biggest since the 2004 Orange Revolution -- was sparked after Yanukovych pulled out of signing association and free-trade agreements with the European Union, just days before the pacts were due to be signed at a summit in Vilnius in late November.
Yanukovych has argued that the EU’s aid offers were insufficient and that Ukraine cannot afford to lose close trade ties with Russia.
The opposition, citing persistent corruption and economic sluggishness, argues that the EU agreement would point the country in a more robust direction and reduce Russian influence. The opposition argues that the failure to sign the agreement, after years of negotiations, marked a betrayal of the aspirations of many ordinary Ukrainians.
Officials said Kerry would not visit Ukraine this week for a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), but will travel on December 4 to neighboring Moldova, which initialed its own EU Association Agreement at the Lithuanian summit.
Kerry said he would be visiting Moldova to "in order to support that country's European choice." He added that he hopes to visit Ukraine "when it, too, gets back on the path to European integration and economic responsibility."
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen also weighed in on the Ukrainian standoff, saying NATO "remains committed to supporting the reform process in Ukraine," which is a NATO partner.
"A sovereign, independent, and stable Ukraine, firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, is key to Euro-Atlantic security," Rasmussen said. "Ukraine remains an important partner of NATO and the alliance highly values Ukraine’s contributions to international security. Our partnership will continue on the basis of the values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. NATO remains committed to supporting the reform process in Ukraine."
Before Tuesday’s vote in parliament, Prime Minister Azarov apologized for the crackdown by riot police against demonstrators, but denounced protesters who have blocked access to government offices. He also pledged to reshuffle his cabinet.
Based on reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP