Protests relating to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich's [official website; JURIST news archive] decision to back out of an EU trade agreement occurred in Kiev on Saturday. The US has threatened [Bloomberg report] to impose trade sanctions on the Ukraine in response to the crackdowns, and Yanukovich himself has reportedly denounced the violence, calling for an investigation into those directly responsible, including the mayor of Kiev and some police officials. Protesters continue to call for Yanukovich's resignation. Russian officials have expressed surprise over the domestic and international reactions to the situation, reportedly referring to them as "nearly hysterical." Yanukovich has indicated that the signing of an agreement with Russia does not necessarily mean the abandonment of ties with the EU, and there remains the possibility of signing a trade agreement sometime in March.
The Kiev protests have indicated polarization Ukraine with competing Western and Russian pressures. Earlier this month Yanukovich stated [JURIST report] his willingness to restart talks relating to the EU trade pact [EU backgrounder]. Protesters staged [JURIST report] a massive demonstration two weeks ago, resulting in a violent police crackdown prompting condemnation from many nations and international advocacy groups. In response to the domestic pressures on the Ukrainian government to sign the trade agreement, Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened to impose trade sanctions should they choose to do so. In late November a prominent imprisoned Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko stated [JURIST report] that she would go on a hunger strike in support of the protesters and has offered to request the EU drop her release as a precondition to signing the trade agreement if it will encourage Ukraine to do so. Tymoshenko is a former Prime Minister of the Ukraine, sentenced [JURIST report] to seven years in prison on corruption charges that her supporters claim are politically motivated.