Ukraine leader tilts toward Russia

MARIA DANILOVA YURAS KARMANAU Associated Press Published:

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- Ukraine's President Viktor Yanukovych on Thursday suggested that Western governments should not interfere in the country's internal affairs, as he appeared to tilt further toward Russia after it offered his economically struggling country a $15-billion bailout.

In a move that is certain to spark further anger among thousands of pro-Europe protesters occupying the capital's main square, Yanukovych said his government may partially commit to a Russian economic union that critics say mimics Soviet-era dominance.

Protests have grown since Yankuovych shelved a plan to sign a long-in-the-works European Union treaty. Top Western diplomats, including EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, have appeared at rallies and expressed strong support for the demonstrations on Kiev's Independence Square, known as the Maidan.

"It is very important. This is our international matter," Yanukovych said in a televised interview. "And let some countries not meddle in our international affairs and not believe that they can be bosses here -- whether on the Maidan or not."

"I am categorically against having someone come here and teach us how to live," a visibly angered Yanukovych said.

The Ukrainian economy risks a default next year. Yanukovych has actively lobbied both Russia and the EU for a financial life jacket, seemingly playing one off the other to see who would offer a better rescue package.

But he appears to be increasingly leaning toward Ukraine's giant neighbor and the EU has signaled it is not ready to give Ukraine massive cash handouts.

Yanukovych said the Cabinet is analyzing which parts of the Moscow-led customs union Ukraine should join.

In Moscow, President Vladimir Putin insisted the bailout is driven by a desire to help a partner in dire straits and wasn't linked to its talks with the EU.

Putin said that Russia decided to buy $15 billion worth of Ukrainian securities and slash the price for Russian natural gas shipments to Ukraine to help a "brotherly" nation.