Putin meets Ukraine’s Yanukovych in Sochi
SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and Russian President Vladimir Putin met on the sidelines of the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympic Games on Friday.
The Kremlin on Saturday confirmed that Yanukovych and Putin met late Friday evening but stopped short of giving the details. Ukraine has seen intense and often violent protests for more than two months since the government’s decision to reject closer ties with the European Union in favor of Russia. Russia has promised its western neighbor $15 billion in aid, but has disbursed only $3 billion while waiting to see whether Ukraine’s president stays in power.
Yanukovych’s meeting with Putin came a day before the Russian financial minister announced that Russia would not lend more to Ukraine unless it pays its gas bill, which was due in January.
Russian news agencies on Saturday quoted Anton Siluanov as saying that Russian leaders also are waiting for the new government to form in Ukraine in order “to have a general idea which Ukrainian counterparts to deal with.” The previous government resigned in late January as a concession from Yanukovych.
“Russia will make good on its obligations,” Siluanov said. “But we would like the Ukrainian counterparts to make good on their obligations, too.”
Ukraine’s faltering economy is a key issue in the crisis. Huge protests began when Yanukovych shelved an agreement to deepen ties with the 28-nation European Union in favor of getting the $15 billion loan from Russia. Many Ukrainians resent the long shadow Russia has cast over Ukraine.
The Fitch ratings agency on Friday slashed Ukraine’s credit rating from B- to CCC, its lowest grade for a country not defaulting on its debt. Fitch said it “no longer” assumes that Russia will deliver in full, and noted that Ukraine can no longer raise money on its own in bond markets.
Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said Friday the United States was willing to consider financial aid to Ukraine if it undertakes economic and political reforms. Opposition leaders in Ukraine have suggested that the country needs aid akin to the Marshall Plan, the U.S. program that propped up Europe after World War II.