OSCE meeting gripped by Ukrainian protests

OSCE meeting gripped by Ukrainian protests

OSCE meeting gripped by Ukrainian protests

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov arrives to the 20th Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Ministerial Council Summit in Kiev amid protests on Dec. 5. AP photo

Western diplomats urged Ukrainian authorities Dec. 5 to respect the massive protests gripping the country against the government’s decision to freeze ties with the EU and turn to Moscow instead.

Several thousand activists kept up the demonstrations at a central square in the capital Kiev and besieged government meetings as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) ministerial council began its meeting on the other side of the river. The meeting had been scheduled long before the protests that have been dominating the country.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland challenged Ukrainian authorities to meet the protests constructively. “This is Ukraine’s moment to meet the aspirations of its people or disappoint them,” she told the OSCE meeting. “Democratic norms and the rule of law must be upheld.” Britain’s Minister for Europe David Liddington called on authorities to respect the right of citizens to “peacefully assemble.”

“The eyes of the world are on Ukraine today,” he said.

Prime Minister Mykola Azarov tried to put a positive spin on the tense situation, saying the protests “are a completely normal development in a country where democracy is developing.”

Snap elections possible

“We will do everything we can to ensure this is a peaceful protest,” Azarov said.

With President Viktor Yanukovych away in China, the government showed no sign of yielding to the protests. However, first Deputy Prime Minister Sergiy Arbuzov, 37, seen as a key member of the so-called “Family” of close allies around Yanukovych, said the government does not rule out discussing snap elections with the opposition. The demonstrators were sparked by Yanukovych’s decision to ditch a significant treaty with the 28-nation European Union after strong pressure from Russia. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle slammed as “simply unacceptable” economic and political pressure on Ukraine, in a thinly veiled jab at Russia.

“The threats and the use of economic pressure which we have seen over the last year are simply unacceptable,” Germany’s outgoing foreign minister told an OSCE security meeting in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.

“The people in Ukraine want to decide their future themselves,” he said, noting he was “worried” by a police crackdown on protesters. The foreign minister pointedly visited the protests on Independence Square late Dec. 4 and told reporters after meeting opposition leaders that the “gates of Europe” were still open for Ukraine.

FM talks with counterparts

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu met Dec. 5 with his Azeri counterpart Elmar Memmadyarov in Kiev and discussed the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict and future steps to be taken regarding regional peace and stability. Diplomatic sources say the two ministers had met in Brussels for a NATO meeting, but met again following Memmadyarov’s meeting on Dec. 4 in Kiev with Armenian Foreign Minister Edward Nalbandyan. Davutoğlu also held a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss efforts in obtaining regional peace in the Caucasus region.