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Kerry Says Ukrainians' Desire For Freedom 'Not Zero-Sum'

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Germany on January 31
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has told attendees at a major international security forum that the Ukrainian people are engaged in a fight for democracy.

And while he acknowledged that "unsavory elements" arise in turbulent times, he drew a sharp distinction between such forces and the broader public interest of aligning a country with its chosen partners.

"Nowhere is the fight for a democratic European future more important today than in Ukraine," Kerry told the Munich Security Conference on February 1. "While there are unsavory elements in the streets in any chaotic situation, 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."

He said the United States and the EU stand with the people of Ukraine in their right to make their own decisions.

"Russia and other countries should not view the European integration of their neighbors as a zero-sum game," Kerry said.

Kerry is expected to meet with Ukrainian opposition leaders on the sidelines of the conference, a development seen as a major boost to the protest movement.

Those talks are expected to include opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, who himself was to address the conference later on February 1.

"We expect support for Ukraine, support for a democratically peaceful movement because everyone wants to see Ukraine asa modern European country, which is our main goal," Klitschko said on arrival. "But so many people right now, especially in the government of Ukraine,don't see Ukraine as a European country."

Yatsenyuk planned to meet with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is in attendance.

Ukraine’s army on January 31 urged President Viktor Yanukovych to take “urgent steps” to stabilize the country and bring an end to more than two months of political upheaval.

Yanukovych signed a law offering a conditional amnesty to jailed protesters. He also signed legislation that repeals controversial antiprotest laws passed earlier in January.

The opposition has rejected the amnesty conditions and is continuing to call for the president’s resignation, along with early national elections and constitutional reforms.

EU: Time Is On Our Side

Meanwhile, NATO's chief and Russia's foreign minister have sparred over Ukraine as they also 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.

"What does incitement of protests have to do with promoting democracy?" Lavrov asked.

RELATED: Ex-President Kravchuk Warns Of Ukrainian 'Civil War'

Lavrov suggested that Western officials were siding with elements that were mounting violent protests and attacks on security forces

"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 said.

The so-called Euromaidan protests were sparked in late November by a government decision to abandon closer EU ties in favor of Russia, and included the occupation of government buildings. But the most serious violence came after the enactment of strict laws against protests in mid-January that have since been revoked.

EU President Herman Van Rompuy reiterated in Munich that the association deal was still available to Ukraine. He told the conference, "We know time is on our side. The future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union."

The Ukrainian public anger was sparked by Yanukovych's decision to reject a trade and association agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties to Russia that brought a pledge of billions of dollars in aid.

The Munich Security Conference, which ends on February 2, is addressing international issues including crisis in Ukraine, the war in Syria, Iran's nuclear program, and U.S. online surveillance, among other topics.

Grisly Abduction

Meanwhile, the European Union and the United States have condemned the abduction and apparent torture of a prominent opposition activist, Dmytro Bulatov.

ALSO READ: Abducted Kyiv Activist 'Crucified,' Tortured; Police Put Him On 'Wanted' List

Police and prosecutors on the night of January 31 visited the hospital where Dmytro Bulatov is recovering, saying they wanted to question him about his disappearance, the laceration of his ear, and his claim to have been "crucified" by unknown men who he said nailed his hands to a door.

Supporters gathered at the clinic overnight, fearing that he would be arrested as an individual who has been put on the Interior Ministry’s wanted list for involvement in “mass riots.”

Authorities said that Bulatov would not cooperate with their investigation, and on February 1 the Interior Ministry said it had launched legal proceedings against Bulatov.

They have also said they are investigating an attempted coup in connection with the antigovernment protests. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said on January 31 that evidence confiscated last month from the offices of the Fatherland party of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko showed protesters intended to provoke police violence against demonstrators and undermineYanukovych's authority.

The Fatherland party said on February 1 that the announcement was a provocation meant to allow authorities to declare a state of emergency.

In the United States, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Obama administration was "appalled" at Bulatov’s treatment and reports suggesting the involvement of Ukrainian authorities.

"We were appalled by obvious signs of torture -- torture -- inflicted on protest leader Dmytro Bulatov, who was found yesterday after having been missing for a week," Carney said.

"We are deeply concerned by increasing reports of protesters disappearing and being beaten and tortured, as well as by attacks on journalists," Carney added. "It is especially concerning that some of these reports have suggested the involvement of the security forces."

Ukrainian opposition leader Oleksandr Turchynov on January 31 accused law-enforcement authorities in Kyiv of working together with criminal organizations “to kill and intimidate” antigovernment protesters.

But Yanukovych adviser Hanna Herman rejected the allegations, calling Turchynov a “provocateur” and saying that the opposition is trying to further inflame tensions instead of cooperating to reach a political compromise with authorities.

The Ukrainian Interior Ministry’s deputy chief of investigations, Oleh Tatarov, also rejected suggestions that government authorities had anything to do with Bulatov’s disappearance -- saying it could have been staged to create a provocation.

Written by RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel in Munich with contributions from Prague; with reporting by AP, Reuters, BBC, and AFP
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