Protests began on Nov. 21 when Yanukovych suspended progress toward an association agreement with the EU, opting instead to strengthen ties with Russia, which supplies 60 percent of Ukraine’s gas. The protests grew over the weekend after the president failed to reconsider the deal at a Nov. 28-29 EU summit in Vilnius and the first clashes broke out.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month he doesn’t oppose the EU deal and suggested three-way negotiations. European Commission President Jose Barroso reiterated that the idea of such talks is unacceptable. The two sides accused each other of pressuring the Ukrainian government.
Putin’s government may have offered Ukraine $15 billion in loans, debt restructuring and asset purchases to persuade it not to proceed with the EU deal, the Ukrainian magazine Zerkalo Nedeli said. Azarov also said Sunday on Inter television he wanted to agree a new price of gas in two weeks.
Russia will offer cheaper natural gas to Ukraine if the government in Kiev opts to join the Moscow-led economic bloc, First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said in an interview.
‘‘A gas agreement could help relieve Ukraine of a huge problem,’’ Shuvalov said in comments cleared for publication Nov. 30. ‘‘We can also give them a loan, but we will not help them without commitments on their part.’’
Western leaders stepped up calls for calm as the confrontation intensified Sunday night. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen urged protesters and police to remain peaceful, according to a statement on the military alliance’s website. U.S. and EU ambassadors to Ukraine did the same.
Yanukovych said Sunday he still favors ‘‘moving toward the EU,’’ as long as that doesn’t hurt the country economically.
‘‘Our country should integrate with the European nations as an equal partner,’’ Yanukovych said in Sunday’s speech to mark the 22nd anniversary of a referendum that clinched Ukraine’s independence after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. ‘‘I will not allow any serious economic losses and decline of living standards.’’
_ With assistance from Bryan Bradley in Vilnius and Paul Abelsky, Henry Meyer, Irina Reznik and Scott Rose in Moscow.