Ukraine peace deal signed, opens way for early election

An anti-government protester mans a barricade in Kiev February 21, 2014.
An anti-government protester mans a barricade in Kiev on Feb. 21.
Credit: Reuters

Ukraine opposition leaders signed an EU-mediated peace deal with President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday, aiming to end a violent standoff that has left dozens dead and opening the way for a early presidential election this year.

Russia-backed Yanukovich — under pressure to quit after the mass demonstrations in Kiev — earlier offered a series of concessions to his pro-European opponents, including a national unity government and constitutional change to reduce his powers, as well as a new presidential vote.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the deal provided for the creation of a national unity government and an early presidential election this year, although no date had been set. The vote had been due in March 2015.

A Reuters correspondent at the signing in the presidential headquarters said Yanukovich did not smile during a ceremony lasting several minutes.

One of the European Union mediators, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, described the agreement as a “good compromise for Ukraine.” In a post on Twitter, he said it “gives peace a chance. Opens the way for reform and to Europe.”

With Ukraine caught in a geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the EU, at least 77 people have been killed this week in the worst violence since the independent country emerged from the wreckage of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“There are no steps that we should not take to restore peace in Ukraine,” Yanukovich said when announcing his concessions before the deal was signed. “I announce that I am initiating early elections.”

Yanukovich said Ukraine would revert to a previous constitution under which parliament had greater control over the make-up of the government, including the prime minister.

“I am also starting the process of a return to the 2004 constitution with a rebalancing of powers towards a parliamentary republic,” he said. “I call for the start of procedures for forming a government of national unity.”

Earlier, a Polish foreign ministry spokesman said a council of protesters occupying Kiev’s Independence Square, which is also known as the Maidan, had backed the agreement.

The civic council “has voted in favor of the three opposition leaders signing the agreement with President Yanukovich concerning resolving the conflict”, the ministry’s spokesman, Marcin Wojciechowski, said on Twitter.

The German and Polish foreign ministers were in Kiev to promote the political compromise to end the bloodshed amid a stand-off between riot police and anti-government protesters who have occupied the central square for nearly three months.

Scuffles in parliament

Before the deal was signed, armed police briefly entered the parliament building while lawmakers were holding an emergency session but they were quickly ejected, opposition leader Arseny Yatsenyuk said. Members exchanged punches when speaker Volodymyr Rybak tried to adjourn proceedings.

Opposition deputies were angered because it would mean delaying a possible vote on a resolution pressing for constitutional changes to restrict the president’s powers. The speaker left the chamber and debate continued.

The deal would be a setback for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has made tying Ukraine into a Moscow-led Eurasian Union a cornerstone of his efforts to reunite as much as possible of the former Soviet Union.

Putin appointed his own envoy to the talks at Yanukovich’s request on Thursday but it was not clear what role, if any, Russian officials had in the negotiations.

In another sign of the severity of the crisis, ratings agency Standard & Poor’s cut Ukraine’s credit rating for the second time in three weeks on Friday, citing the increased risk of default.

S&P said latest developments in the crisis made it less likely that Ukraine would receive desperately needed Russian aid. Ukraine cancelled a planned issue of 5-year Eurobonds worth $2 billion, it told the Irish Stock Exchange where the debt would have been listed. Kiev had hoped Russia would buy the bonds to help it stave off bankruptcy.

Russia’s economy minister said Moscow was still undecided on the next $2 billion installment and was awaiting clarity on the government in Ukraine.

On financial markets, Ukraine’s dollar bonds and the hryvnia currency firmed against the dollar from record lows hit this week on hopes for a deal.

However, RBS analyst Tatyana Orlova noted the country was still in dire financial straits. “This is not the end of the story. What I am reading is there is a deal but the devil is in the detail … The urgent need is for a technocratic cabinet that could take steps to avert default,” Orlova said.

The health ministry said 77 people had been killed since Tuesday afternoon, which meant at least 47 died in Thursday’s clashes.

On Thursday, EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels imposed targeted sanctions on Ukraine and threatened more if the authorities failed to restore calm.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Gunther from 'Friends' talks Central Perk

We spoke with Gunther (James Michael Tyler) at the preview for new pop-up Central Perk, based on the cafe in "Friends."

Local

Central Perk opens in SoHo

Central Perk, of "Friends" fame, is giving out free coffee in SoHo through Oct. 18.

National

Beer sponsor Anheuser-Busch reproaches NFL over domestic abuse

Anheuser-Busch chastised the NFL for its handling of domestic violence cases, making it the first major advertiser to put pressure on the league.

Local

Sen. Krueger dishes on prospect of legal marijuana…

New Yorkers may see the legalization of recreational marijuana use as early as 2015 if State Senator Liz Krueger (D) gets her way. The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act will…

Music

FREEMAN makes Freeman a free man from Ween

For nearly 30 years, Aaron Freeman was known endearingly to his listeners as Gene Ween. But with "FREEMAN," he makes it clear that he's gone somewhere else.

Television

'Outlander' recap: Season 1, Episode 6: 'The Garrison…

Whipping, punching, kicking and a marriage contract. "Outlander" is not for the faint of heart this week with "The Garrison Commander."

The Word

The Word: Hey girl, it's a girl for…

It's a girl for Ryan Gosling and Eva Mendes, who reportedly welcomed a daughter last Friday, according to Us Weekly. The super-private couple managed to…

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 16: 'New Girl,'…

Check out the season premiere of "New Girl," as Jess competes with Jessica Biel for a guy's attentions.

MLB

5 top contenders for NL Rookie of the…

The outing rekindled award talk for deGrom, who appears to hold the top spot for NL Rookie of the Year honors. Metro breaks down a few other contenders.

College

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

College football Top 25 poll (AP rankings)

NFL

Tom Coughlin says Giants 'beat themselves' against Cardinals

Head coach Tom Coughlin, who had a day to cool off and reflect, still sounded like he had a gnawing feeling in his gut.

NFL

Marty Mornhinweg accepts blame for Jets timeout fiasco

Jets fans looking for a scapegoat for Sunday’s timeout fiasco found a willing party on Monday: Marty Mornhinweg.

Style

Rachel Zoe: New York Fashion Week Spring 15

Rachel Zoe goes 'Glam bohemia' for Spring.

Food

Where to find SweeTango apples

Introduced in 2009, SweeTango — a hybrid of Honeycrisp and Zestar — is a sweet apple with plenty of crunch.

Style

London Fashion Week recap

London Fashion week gets in on the action with politics, heritage and summertime living.

Food

Padma Lakshmi's recipe for green mango curry

Padma Lakshmi shares her recipe for green mango curry in UNICEF's new book, "UNICHEF."