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Putin’s economic bailout for Ukraine angers protesters supportive of EU deal

December 17, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
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GWEN IFILL: In Ukraine, protesters are back at the barricades, their anger refueled by their president’s new dealings with Moscow.

Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner reports.

MARGARET WARNER: Russian President Vladimir Putin threw embattled Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych a lifeline today, agreeing to buy $15 billion in Ukrainian bonds and to slash the selling price of Russian natural gas by about a third. He launched their talks at the Kremlin by voicing solidarity with his economically strapped neighbor.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russian President (through interpreter): I very much hope that we will be able to move forward in solving the most sensitive issues for us. Without any doubt, Ukraine is our strategic partner and ally in every sense of this word.

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MARGARET WARNER: But Putin insisted there was no discussion of Ukraine becoming part of an economic trading bloc of former Soviet states, over which Yanukovych has been criticized at home.

VLADIMIR PUTIN (through interpreter): I would like to calm everybody down. We have not discussed today at all the question of Ukraine joining the customs union.

MARGARET WARNER: Yet, back in the Ukrainian capital, news of the bailout angered protesters who want Ukraine to move toward the European Union, not back into Russia’s fold.

One opposition leader, former heavyweight boxing champ Vitali Klitschko, insisted their battle is not over.

VITALI KLITSCHKO, opposition leader (through interpreter): They have given up Ukraine’s national interests, they have given up Ukraine’s independence, and they have given up perspectives of better life for all Ukrainians.

MARGARET WARNER: The protesters have been camped out in Kiev’s Maidan Square since November 25, when Yanukovych, under pressure from Russia, unexpectedly reneged on plans to sign a political and trade agreement with the E.U.

Last week, they were boosted by a visit from Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who handed out bread and encouragement. And E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton came away from a meeting with Yanukovych saying he’d pledge to sign the agreement after all.

But, on Sunday, E.U. officials said negotiations were going nowhere, and the crowd in the square swelled to some 200,000.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: The free world is with you. America is with you. I am with you.

MARGARET WARNER: Arizona Senator John McCain told the demonstrators that Ukraine’s destiny lies with Europe, not with Russia.

Back in Washington today, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the Kremlin bailout doesn’t address the protesters’ concerns, nor Ukraine’s deeper economic problems.

JAY CARNEY, White House Press Secretary: As we have said in the past, we urge the Ukrainian government to listen to its people and to find a way to restore a path to the peaceful, just, democratic, and economically prosperous European future to which Ukrainian citizens aspire.

MARGARET WARNER: The Kremlin plans to buy the first installment of Ukrainian bonds this week.