KIEV: Europe and the United States Monday mulled a financial aid plan to help resolve Ukraine’s crisis in a boost for the opposition as it prepared to press its demands in Parliament.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due in Kiev this week, along with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, as thousands of protesters remain camped out in the capital and across Ukraine.
There is growing international pressure for a swift end to the two-month confrontation, which has set off sparks between Russia and the West and claimed the lives of at least two protesters and two policemen.
EU sources said that Brussels, Washington and the International Monetary Fund were discussing different forms of possible aid for Ukraine, and a more concrete proposal could be put forward in the coming days.
Ashton’s spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that the talks were about “what we can do to help support the Ukrainian economy,” but stressed any aid would be linked to political reforms or the naming of a new government.
Asked to comment, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara said: “Nobody has discussed this with me.”
In a pointed reference to Ashton’s upcoming visit, he added: “Maybe she can clarify the situation.”
Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk has asked for a “Marshall Plan” – a reference to massive post-war U.S. aid for Europe – and said the minimum required was the $20-billion promised by Russia in a bailout that is now on hold.
But EU diplomats played down the prospect of big funds.
“It’ll be difficult to offer as much as the Russians,” said one diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Ukraine’s recession-hit economy is hugely dependent on the Russian credit and Moscow tightened the screws further Monday by reminding Ukraine it owed $3.3 billion for supplies in 2013 and so far in 2014.
Even as it ups the pressure, Russia has accused the West of massive interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine – Moscow’s former Soviet satellite – and has dismissed the protesters as far-right extremists.
Yatsenyuk and other protest chiefs meanwhile readied for a Parliament session Tuesday where they are set to request the immediate release of all detained protesters and reforms to reduce presidential powers.
President Viktor Yanukovych and his ruling Regions Party have passed an amnesty law that makes the release of scores of protesters conditional on occupied official buildings such as ministries being vacated in the next few days.
The opposition says this makes the jailed protesters “hostages” and has condemned what it calls a “secret repression” underway in which activists are allegedly taken away and beaten by pro-government vigilantes.
The case of Dmytro Bulatov, a beaten protest leader who said he was kidnapped and tortured for eight days before being dumped in a forest outside Kiev, is a particularly shocking example of these claims of abuse.
In a statement Monday from the hospital in Vilnius where he is being treated, the 35-year-old father of three vowed to “keep fighting” for democracy – after EU and U.S. leaders expressed shock over his treatment.
Ukrainian activists are also increasingly turning their sights on the foreign assets allegedly bought by officials using revenues from government corruption and are hoping for EU and U.S. financial sanctions.
Campaigners from the Democratic Alliance Party held a small protest outside Deutsche Bank’s offices in Kiev, asking the German lender to stop working with Ukrainian officials that they accused of being corrupt.
They laid out blood-covered banknotes spelling out Yanukovych’s name in the snow to make their point.
“The point of being in power in Ukraine for them is the corruption. They steal money from the budget and they put it in Europe,” said one protester, Viktor Andrusiv.
Yanukovych returned to work Monday after four days of sick leave but no fresh negotiations are scheduled with the opposition, which has asked for “international mediation” in the talks.
Yanukovych has so far scrapped hugely controversial antiprotest laws and the prime minister and the entire Cabinet have resigned under opposition pressure.
But the list of unanswered opposition demands still includes his resignation before the end of his mandate in 2015 and for early elections to be called.
An Internet survey by the TNS agency in Kiev found that a majority of its 1,008 respondents were in favor of early presidential and parliamentary elections. But it also showed up rifts in Ukraine’s society.
Asked if the protests should continue, 48 percent said yes and 45.1 percent said no.