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Ukraine

Ashton Says 'A Lot More Work' Needed To Resolve Ukraine's Crisis

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (second from right) meets with Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (right), Vitali Klitschko (second left), and Oleh Tyahnybok (left) in Kyiv on  February 4.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (second from right) meets with Ukrainian opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk (right), Vitali Klitschko (second left), and Oleh Tyahnybok (left) in Kyiv on February 4.
By RFE/RL
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says “a lot more work” needs to be done to resolve the confrontation in Ukraine between authorities and antigovernment protesters.

Ashton spoke after separate meetings in Kyiv on February 5 with President Viktor Yanukovych and opposition figures.

Ashton said the EU was ready to help Ukraine both financially and with expertise, to improve its long-term economic development and help with possible changes to its constitutional set-up.

"There has not been much talk on this visit about the composition of any new government and in terms of the economic support this is not just about the EU not about, you know, large dollops of money," Ashton said. "This is about the kind of economic support that includes expertise, technical ability, resources that can be given, the role of institutions internationally, the role of the European Union, member states, other countries. So it is about how do you pull together an economic package that would provide for the clear economic needs of the country in the context of the economic reform."

Ukraine has been gripped by unrest for the past two months, with protesters demanding the resignation of the government over Yanukovych’s decision to pursue closer Russia ties and scupper a key EU deal.

Ashton also mentioned the need for those who have committed acts of violence to be brought to justice.

"Although there is a sense of violence decreasing, there's still great concern about the situation on the ground. And a great concern to see that those who have committed violence are brought to justice. And a great desire to see some kind of transparent and independent process to achieve that. I've made clear that we are more than willing to to help and support such a process which I do think is extremely important."

At least four people have died in connection with the protests and occupation of government buildings, while hundreds more have been injured.

Separately, EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele said on February 5 that he will return to Kyiv next week to continue efforts to help defuse the country's crisis. Fuele told the European Parliament that he and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "are working as a team on Ukraine."

Fuele called for quick discussion on the constitution under a new government and said the EU could assist revisions with expertise and advice.

Fuele said "in case of a positive scenario" the EU would be ready to extend assistance, based on a genuine commitment to political and economic reforms, in cooperation with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other global actors. He added that it was crucial to ensure free and fair elections in 2015.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin said it was increasingly concerned about Ukraine's growing debt on its gas payments and needed an explanation about Kyiv's future policies in the face of pro-EU protests.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin would keep to his pledge to provide Ukraine with a $15 billion bailout package that also slashes the price for Russian gas shipments as long as Kyiv kept the commitments it had previously made to Moscow.

But Peskov told Kommersant FM radio, "We are concerned about the growing debt for gas deliveries."

Russia's natural-gas giant Gazprom said this week that Ukraine's state energy company owed $3.29 billion in payments for 2013 and January of this year.

Kremlin press secretary Dmitry Peskov also said Russia hopes that Ukraine will not split into two parts, but will keep its territorial integrity.

Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko told reporters on February 4 that he thought Yanukovych was stalling.

"But I have a feeling that the president wants to pass all the responsibility onto the parliament," he added. "I want to remind once again that the whole power today is in one pair of hands -- in the hands of the president of Ukraine -- and thus the whole responsibility is in his hands. Procrastination of this process only increases the temperature in the society."

Meanwhile, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland is to visit Kyiv on February 6 in the latest sign of Washington's support for pro-democracy demonstrators.

Nuland’s visit comes after Washington acknowledged holding talks on February 3 with the European Union on a possible financial aid package for Ukraine.

Based on reporting by Reuters, AFP, and Interfax

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