An EU official blamed Ukrainian dissembling on Sunday as he announced that an association agreement with Ukraine was “on hold”, as pro- and anti-government protesters massed in Kiev amid questions about the country’s future ties to the West and Russia.
The twin protests had originally been expected to be just a few hundred metres away from each other. However, the pro-government group decided late on Saturday to move their rally to a park further away, a shift that was seen as an attempt at de-escalation.
More than 200,000 were expected at the anti-government rally, with crowds making their way into the city centre for the event, called by boxing champion and opposition party leader Vitaly Klitschko.
At the same time, tens of thousands were seen massing for the pro-government rally.
There was only a light security presence to be seen in both venues.
At the heart of the issue is a government decision last month not to sign an association agreement with the European Union.
Anti-government protesters say this moves them further from their European dream. The government says it had little choice as Russia, Ukraine’s largest trading partner, had indicated it might reduce ties if the agreement were signed.
However, the European Union indicated on Sunday that the agreement would not stay on the table indefinitely.
“Told [Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Arbusov] ... that further discussion is conditioned on clear commitment 2 sign. Work on hold, had no answer,” Stefan Fule, the EU commissioner for neighbourhood policy, tweeted.
“Words & deeds of president & government regarding [the association agreement] further & further apart. Their arguments have no grounds in reality.” Protests on Saturday — overseen by a strong police presence — were largely peaceful.
The anti-government side received a show of support from U.S. Senator John McCain, who met opposition leaders and witnessed the protests at the capital’s Independence Square.
The pro-European protesters had gathered in “an incredible display of patriotism,” McCain tweeted.
In another development on Sunday, five voting precincts, including one in Kiev, staged reruns of 2012 parliamentary elections in which the electoral commission said there had never been a clear result, after critics made accusations of tampering.