European Union officials are due to meet with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv on January 29 – a day after President Viktor Yanukovych accepted the resignation of the government and parliament overturned controversial antiprotest laws that it had passed just two weeks ago.
The visits by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele follow criticism of the EU by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who said in Brussels on January 28 that EU officials are exacerbating Ukraine’s crisis with political interference.
Putin also pledged that a change of Ukraine’s government will not alter Russia’s $15 billion loan and cheap natural gas deal with Ukraine.
Russia offered the deal after Yanukovych in November rejected a trade and political agreement with the EU in favor of closer relations with Russia.
Standard & Poor’s downgraded Ukraine’s credit rating on January 28, saying the Russian loans are uncertain under a new government.
Parliament’s decision on January 28 to overturn the antiprotest laws came after Prime Minister Mykola Azarov -- a loyal Yanukovych ally -- announced his resignation along with his cabinet.
Azarov's spokesman said First Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, a former central-bank chief, would be acting prime minister. Other ministers would continue in an acting capacity until a new government is formed.
Azarov said he was resigning in order to peacefully resolve Ukraine’s crisis.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko said Azarov's resignation was only "a step to victory."
"This resignation had to take place a month ago but unfortunately we lost this month and during this month the temperature in the society has risen dramatically," Klitschko said.
"I am confident that there was no other way out," Klitschko continued. "I am certain that as the question of the government's responsibility was on the agenda at the parliament [on January 28], Azarov knew about it and did everything to save face."
Opposition leader Yuriy Lutsenko, a former Ukrainian interior minister, demanded Yanukovych’s resignation as well and new elections:
"The fact that the political process has finally started, that the government has finally heard the demands of millions of people, and the parliament is doing what it was supposed to have done long ago, the repeal of fascist [antiprotest] laws is definitely great," Lutsenko said.
"The amnesty for all those who took part in [protest] rallies, except for those who killed and tortured, is definitely a plus," he said. " However, we are calling for more than just a replacement of Azarov's cabinet -- a replacement of faces; we are calling for a replacement of the entire system."
Opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok said Azarov's resignation was an attempt to escape "political and criminal responsibility" for Ukraine's crisis:
Tyahnybok said: "We have expected such a move from them because every time we were bringing up the question of the government's resignation and the responsibility of some ministers of the government, namely [Interior Minister Vitaliy] Zakharchenko, for all that is going on in Ukraine, we understood that authorities were looking for the most favorable options for them to escape political and criminal responsibility and also to save face in front of their own team."
Meanwhile, a more radical faction within the opposition protest movement has issued its own demands.
Right Sector, reported to be the driving force behind recent protest violence, said it wants officials responsible for the deaths and abuse of protesters to be punished. It also wants Ukraine's riot police disbanded.
Based on reports by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Reuters, AP, and AFP.