MUNICH, Germany -- Ukrainian opposition leader Vitali Klitschko says that the Ukrainian people have shown their will for political change despite violence against them.
Speaking at the Munich Security Conference on February 1, the former world heavyweight boxing champion-cum-lawmaker called on friends of Ukraine in the West to help Ukraine's democratic movement succeed.
Klitschko also said the opposition's goals are to reduce tensions in the crisis and for the government to abandon what he called a path of terror and violence against protesters and free more than 300 people who have been detained.
But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara told the conference that Ukraine's large ethnic Russian minority does not support the protests, dubbed "Euromaidan" by their supporters.
"Not all Ukraine supports the Maidan," Kozhara said. "By the way, there are 8 million ethnic Russians living in Ukraine, of 45 million people. And do you think all these people are happy that some big European and overseas politicians say you must make your strategic choice: take away Ukraine from Russia and put it somewhere else?"
He added that Ukraine is a diverse country that cannot simply choose between the European Union and Russia but must have ties with both.
Ukraine has dominated discussions at the Munich conference, which ends on February 2.
Earlier in the day, U .S. Secretary of State John Kerry said
the Ukrainian people are engaged in a fight for democracy.
He told the annual gathering of global political leaders and defense officials that "nowhere is the fight for a democratic European future more important today than in Ukraine."
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's last-minute suspension of talks on a deal with the European Union in November, apparently under pressure from Moscow, sparked what has been two months of street protests in Ukraine. Clashes between protesters and police intensified after strict antiprotest legislation was imposed last month, before being rescinded.
"While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation," Kerry told the Munich audience, "the vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe and a prosperous country and they are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations and they have decided that that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone and certainly not coerced."
Kerry added that the United States and the EU stand with the people of Ukraine in their right to make their own decisions.
And, he said, "Russia and other countries should not view the European integration of their neighbors as a zero-sum game."
Kerry met with Ukrainian opposition leaders on the sidelines of the conference, a development seen as a major boost to the protest movement. The opposition leaders included Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
The meetings in Munich took place a day after Ukraine’s army urged the president to take “urgent steps” to stabilize the country and end the unrest.
Yanukovych has signed a law offering a conditional amnesty to jailed protesters and legislation that repeals the controversial antiprotest laws.
Meanwhile, NATO's chief and Russia's foreign minister sparred over Ukraine as they each addressed the conference.
Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the annual global gathering of hundreds of top leaders, diplomats and defense officials that "Ukraine must have the freedom to choose its own path without external pressure."
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov charged European politicians with helping to destabilize Ukraine, and he questioned the West's perceived willingness to overlook the protest movement's flaws.
"Why don't we condemn those who seize and hold government buildings, attack the police, torch the police, use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?" Lavrov asked.
Also on February 1, EU President Herman Van Rompuy reiterated that the association deal is still available to Ukraine. "We know time is on our side. The future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union," Van Rompuy said.
The three-day Munich Security Conference is addressing international issues including crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, and U.S. online surveillance.