YEREVAN, December 2 (RIA Novosti) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that events unfolding in Ukraine should not be described as a revolution, but were rather more reminiscent of a “pogrom.”
The Russian leader said ongoing mass demonstrations were unrelated to Ukraine’s recent decision to pull back from signing a series of landmark deals for closer economic integration with the EU.
“This internal political process is an attempt by the opposition to destabilize the existing legitimate rule in the country,” Putin said during a visit to the former Soviet nation of Armenia.
The remarks come amid growing public irritation among Kremlin officials over suggestions that Ukraine reversed course on its plans with the EU under pressure from Russia.
On Monday evening, crowds at Kiev’s central Independence Square continued to swell as demonstrators reinforced barricades around the space that served as the focal point of the Orange Revolution of 2004-2005. Hundreds of thousands of people gathered in the center of the city Sunday in a mainly peaceful rally, although there were ugly scenes of violence when police clashed with mobs seeking to storm the presidential administration building.
The protests that began on November 21, ostensibly over cancellation of the EU pacts that had been due for signing last week, have increasingly been focused on demands for the government to be dissolved and the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Putin said what was happening in Kiev betrayed signs of a long-prepared strategy.
“These actions are, in my opinion, prepared not in view of current events, but for the 2015 election campaign,” Putin said.
Yanukovych was narrowly elected to the a five-year presidential term in February 2010.
The Ukrainian government’s decision to suspend preparations for the EU association agreements has been widely read as a victorious outcome for the Kremlin and its efforts to keep its former Soviet neighbor within its economic orbit.
Russia has been openly lobbying for other economically struggling former Soviet nations, such as Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, to join the Customs Union trade bloc, which some view as an exercise by Moscow at reasserting regional influence.
But Ukraine has generally played it cool over such initiatives, viewing them as an attempt to undermine its sovereignty.
While Putin has insisted that no pressure was being applied to Ukraine, Kremlin officials have openly threatened Ukraine in the past that an EU trade deal would preface trade embargoes.
Earlier this year, Russia cited hygiene concerns when it slapped an import ban on the products of a major Ukrainian major candy maker that provides work for thousands of people.
In October, Russia’s state-run energy giant Gazprom complained that Ukraine had not settled an $882 million unpaid natural gas bill for August and warned that it could in future begin demanding advance payment for the fuel.
That prompted Ukraine to announce it would stop buying Russian gas until the end of the year, which raised the specter of a possible halt of deliveries to Western Europe, only for Kiev to back down a few days later.