Nele Obermueller and Olga Rudenko, Special for USA TODAY
Ukrainian protesters say they have no doubt that Russia will intervene militarily in the unrest that has been plaguing the former Soviet territory for months.
KIEV, Ukraine — Ukrainian protesters said Thursday they have no doubt Russia will intervene militarily in the unrest here if the current Moscow-aligned president gives in to demands for more freedoms and stronger ties to the West.
“Everyone knows that Russia is going to send troops to Ukraine – we have known it for a long time now,” said Kateryna Chorna of Kiev who has regularly taken part in the anti-government protests that started in November.
“And everyone knows that some of (the Russian troops) are already here but nobody wants to speak openly about it because nobody wants to fight our brothers,” she said, referring to a widespread belief that Russian military make up the police force and hired provocateurs trying to sabotage and subdue the protests.
Protesters expressed their fears as a senior U.S. diplomat arrived in Kiev to try to help find a resolution to the country’s political crisis, and an adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine with attack.
Sergei Glazyev on Thursday accused the United States of funding the Ukrainian “rebels” by as much as $20 million a day for weapons and other supplies. He urged the Ukrainian government to put down the “attempted coup” or Russia may have to to intervene under the terms of a 1994 agreement between the U.S. and Russia, according to the Ukraine edition of the Russian daily Kommersant.
Glazyev was alluding to the Budapest Memorandum, a treaty in which the Ukraine agreed to turn over a nuclear arsenal on its soil left over after the fall of the Soviet Union, of which Ukraine was a part until it dissolved in 1991.
In return, the United States, United Kingdom and Russia, nuclear powers all, guaranteed to respect the independence and the borders of Ukraine and reaffirmed their commitment to seek immediate U.N. Security Council action should Ukraine become a victim of an act of aggression.
But the memorandum, which is not binding, refers only to “nuclear aggression” and it requires the signatories to consult each other if other unspecified aggression arises.
Glazyev said the agreement binds Russia and the United States “to intervene when conflicts of this kind arise. And what the Americans are doing now, unilaterally and crudely interfering in the internal affairs of Ukraine, is a clear breach of that treaty.”
On Thursday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met separately in Kiev with President Viktor Yanukovych and with opposition leaders to find a solution to the conflict. Yanukovych is scheduled to meet with Putin on Friday at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
Protesters want Yanukovych to resign, and for his successor to sign an economic treaty with the European Union that Yanukovych rejected in favor of a $15 billion loan and gas deliveries from Putin.
Nuland’s visit comes amid growing frustration over parliament’s failure to enact constitutional reforms and an amnesty for protesters. The legislature met three days this week but produced no results and adjourned Thursday until next week.
In Kiev on Thursday, about 2,000 demonstrators marched toward parliament carrying a banner reading: “We are tired of waiting.” Protesters said they were ready to resume clashes with police, if parliament’s inaction continued.
The U.S. and the European Union have called for Yanukovych and the opposition to reach a compromise and warned Yanukovych against using more force against the protesters.
The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, adopted a non-binding resolution Thursday urging the bloc’s 28 nations to prepare targeted sanctions such as freezing assets of “Ukrainian officials, legislators and oligarchs personally responsible for the attacks on and deaths of protesters.”
Glazyev said the Ukrainian government needs to spurn outsiders and put down the insurrection with force.
“The Ukrainian government is making a mistake by resisting the use of force to solve the crisis, and if the protesters will not disperse, the violent suppression of protests will be inevitable,” he said. “In a situation where the authorities face an attempted coup, they simply have no other course of action – otherwise, the country could be plunged into chaos.”
The protests, which have seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets, had remained largely peaceful but turned violent last month as demonstrators clashed with police, leading to at least four deaths, according to police, although others say the toll is higher.
The United States and the EU want the opposition to share in government. Yanukovych offered leading opposition figures high-level posts in the government but they rejected the offer, instead calling for new elections.
Analysts say that while Russia has a special interest in Ukraine, Glazyev does not speak for Putin and is exaggerating the threat of military force.
“Mr. Glazyev has a record of making inflammatory statements about Ukraine – to my knowledge, he does not speak for the Russian government on Ukraine,” said John Lough, an analyst specializing on the Russia and Eurasia at Chatham House think tank in London. “I think that any potential intervention by Russia would be political and economic, and certainly not military.”
But many protesters believe that the Ukraine government is playing for time and would welcome Russian military intervention if protesters refuse to back down.
“The only question is if they will act now or after the Winter Olympics end,” said protester Chorna. “Me, my family and my friends, we are all very worried about this because it will have impact on business, on salaries, benefits.”