Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has defended Kyiv's bailout deal with Moscow, and told the West not to interfere in Ukraine's current political crisis.
On December 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised Kyiv $15 billion in loans and said it would reduce the gas price for Ukraine by one-third starting from next month.
Speaking at a news conference in Kyiv on December 19, Yanukovych said Moscow's offer was not aimed at bringing Ukraine into a Russia-led customs union and preventing Kyiv from signing a key Association Agreement with the EU.
"There is no contradiction between Ukraine's course and any integration," he said. "In fact, we are talking not about integration but about economic relations. [Putin and I] did not discuss any integration issues either regarding European integration or regarding the customs union."
Yanukovych's shock decision last month to cancel the signing of the accord with the EU has brought tens of thousands of pro-European Ukrainians into the streets.
The Ukrainian leader said on December 19 the deal with Russia did not contradict Ukraine's pursuing closer ties with the European Union in the future. But he voiced his irritation with visits to Ukraine by Western politicians who expressed their overt support for the pro-EU demonstrators.
"It is very important that other countries do not interfere in our internal affairs and that they do not consider that they are the masters here, anywhere, on Independence Square or anywhere else," he said. "I am categorically against anybody coming and teaching us how to live here."
He also blamed pro-EU opposition leaders for stirring the masses through what he called "revolutionary" actions, and urged them to wait for elections to achieve their goals.
Yanukovych said, however, that if his ratings were low, he would not run for reelection in 2015.
Also on December 19, the Ukrainian parliament voted in favor of an amnesty for those arrested during the weeks-long mass protests.
At his own news conference in Moscow on December 19, Putin said the Kremlin did not oppose closer ties between Ukraine and the EU, but that Russia was compelled as a "brotherly country" to offer Kyiv the bailout.
"Today we see that Ukraine is in a complicated economic, political, and social situation," he said. "This situation has emerged due to a number of circumstances and reasons, but nevertheless it is objective. If we are serious calling [Ukraine] our brotherly country, then we ought to behave as close relatives and support the Ukrainian people in this complex situation. I assure you that this is the absolutely main reason why we made this decision."
In Brussels, EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton indicated that the door remains open for Ukraine.
"Yanukovych told me several times that he is going to sign the Association Agreement," she said. "President Putin said today, as I saw on the wires, that he is, you know, not against them signing an agreement with the EU. We are ready to sign it, so, if you like, the political situation is one in which there doesn't seem to be a reason not to sign it."
Yanukovych said Kyiv was still studying what it means if Ukraine signs an Association Agreement with the EU. He said on December 19 that Ukraine had to find a "model of cooperation" that can satisfy all sides.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP