Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said financial terms offered by the European Union to convince him to close a key political and trade deal with the bloc had been humiliating and that he would wait for improved conditions before agreeing on anything.
Yanukovych made the statement in a televised interview as thousands of pro-EU Ukrainians continued to stage mass demonstrations in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities urging the government to sign an Association Agreement with the EU.
Yanukovych said the EU for the past three years had demanded Ukraine sign a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund in exchange for EU technical assistance worth 610 million euros. Yanukovych said the IMF told Ukraine it would have to raise taxes for the population and freeze salaries and pensions.
Yanukovych said, "We don't have to be humiliated like this. We are a serious, European country." He added, "As soon as we agree on normal conditions, then we will talk about signing."
Yanukovych's statement came shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin said Moscow was concerned about the impact on Russia's economy of closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, urging Brussels to refrain from "harsh" remarks.
"I would kindly ask our friends in Brussels -- my personal friends, good ones in the European Commission -- to refrain from harsh statements," Putin said. "Should we kill entire branches of our economy to be loved by them? We do not want any outbreaks of joblessness and shutdown of entire branches of the Russian economy."
Putin said Ukraine, the EU, and Russia should meet and discuss a way forward after Kyiv suspended moves to sign an Association Agreement with the EU at a summit later this week.
Brussels had earlier accused Moscow of pressuring Ukraine out of the deal.
But Putin denied Russia had strong-armed Ukraine into putting off the signing of the agreement and said, "The choice of whom to sign a free trade agreement with is Ukraine's sovereign choice and we will respect the decision, whatever it is."
Meantime, several thousand students joined protesters in Kyiv on November 26 to demand that Ukraine's government sign the EU agreement. It was the third day of large protests in the capital.
On November 26, leaders of the three main opposition groups, the Batkivshchyna party, the UDAR party, and the Svoboda union -- Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Vitaly Klitschko, and Oleh Tyahnybok -- circulated an appeal for unity among their supporters.
The appeal said, "We are different, but we are united by one demand: President Viktor Yanukovych must sign the association agreement at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius."
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On November 25, jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko launched a hunger strike in solidarity with the pro-EU protests.
The EU, which considers Tymoshenko's conviction for abuse of office as politically motivated and an example of selective justice, had made allowing Tymoshenko to get medical treatment abroad one of the key conditions for signing the deal with Kyiv, but the Ukrainian parliament failed to pass the necessary laws.
Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax