By Mick Krever and Claire Calzonetti, CNN
Russia said Thursday that the European Union is trying to bully Ukraine into signing a free trade deal against the wishes of the majority of Ukrainians.
Russia itself has been accused of strong-arming President Viktor Yanukovych into rejecting such an agreement. For weeks, thousands of Ukrainians have braved the bitter cold to protest that decision.
“The EU offers a token package, which is not of any interest to the Ukrainian government,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russia’s Parliament, told CNN’s Hala Gorani, who was sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
“That’s why Mister Yanukovych has initially rejected it,” he said. “Then all these demonstrations started with the participation of the European ministers…who were speaking on the Maidan [Kiev’s Independence Square], joining the protesters, and so on.”
This is taking Ukraine by the neck and trying to…bring it forcefully into the paradise.”
On Thursday, there was a hint that Yanukovych may be bowing to the opposition’s pressure and reversing course.
The EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, spoke to Yanukovych and told CNN afterwards that he “still wishes to sign the association agreement with the European Union.”
Pushkov said he was not so sure.
“He never actually rejected the possibility of signing a deal with the European Union,” he said. “But he said on many occasions that he is not happy with the content of the deal.”
According to Pushkov, Yanukovych may yet sign “some kind of deal,” albeit altered to better suit Ukraine.
“This is not clear yet, and I will need some more information to make my judgement.”
The protests in Kiev – the largest since 2004’s Orange Revolution – turned violent Tuesday night when riot police moved in on encampments, even using chainsaws and bulldozers to pull down barriers.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry expressed “disgust” at the police action.
Pushkov was incredulous.
“My feeling is that the United States are disgusted with the governments they don’t like, and they are quite happy with the governments they like, even if these governments are killing people.”
The U.S., he said, is not “disgusted” with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or Egypt.
“But the United States are for some reason disgusted with the democratic government of Ukraine, and with the president, who has been democratically elected and recognized by the United States.”
“The only reason for this is geo-politics. The United States want Ukraine to become part of Western sphere of influence.”
Russia too is pursuing a trade deal with Ukraine, and Pushkov made clear that he believes that that deal would be a better fit.
“Look at Serbia,” he said. “Look at Bulgaria, which is member of the EU. These countries have lost much more from joining the association or the membership in the European Union.”
“Their industry is destroyed. Their agriculture is almost non-existent. And they are still waiting for investments from the European Union, which are never coming.”
Ukraine, he said, should be comparing itself to those countries, not Denmark, Norway, or Sweden, which he characterized as “well to-do countries.”
“We have noticed that the association of the European Union does not really spell well for a number of southern European countries with under-developed economies.”
Were Ukraine to enter into an agreement with the EU, he said, Russia would “reconsider its trade terms” with Ukraine in order to “defend” its market from goods coming from that country.
But with Russia on its side, Pushkov said, Ukraine will be able to compete.