Putin Warns of ’Outside Interference’ in Ukraine in Merkel Call

Russian President Vladimir Putin said “outside interference” in Ukraine is unacceptable as German Chancellor Angela Merkel exhorted the Russian leader to help stop violence in the neighboring nation.

The Russian and German leaders offered diverging views on addressing the unrest after speaking yesterday by phone, as Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych failed to quell nationwide street protests calling for his resignation.

“The unacceptability of any outside interference was stressed” by Putin in the call, according to the Kremlin’s website. The chancellor called on Putin “to help seek constructive and results-oriented dialog between the government and opposition,” according to a statement from the chancellery in Berlin.

“There must not be any new violence,” the chancellor’s office said. Merkel also spoke with the Ukrainian leader by phone.

Days of concessions from Yanukovych were followed Jan. 28 by the resignation of his loyalist prime minister, Mykola Azarov. Still, opposition leaders stood by their demand for a snap presidential election as demonstrators held out in Kiev, filling sand bags with ice in minus 11 degrees Celsius (12 degrees Fahrenheit) weather to reinforce barricades.

Yanukovych has struggled to defuse the protests, which have spread throughout the nation of 45 million people. The two-month crisis, sparked by the president’s rejection of a European integration pact, turned deadly last week as the passage of anti-protest laws triggered riots.

Russian Pressure

Merkel has criticized pressure exerted by Russia over Ukraine, as Putin this week pledged to go forward with a $15 billion bailout of its former Soviet neighbor, a key transit route for Russian energy supplies to Europe.

After a Russia-European Union summit in Brussels earlier this week, Putin sought to ease concern over Ukraine’s power struggle, while demonstrating the leverage that Russia can exercise over its western neighbor by dictating gas prices and shoring up its public finances.

Russia will wait until Ukraine forms a new government before honoring agreements to reduce natural gas prices and channeling the remainder of the $15 billion rescue package to its neighbor, Putin said yesterday. A day earlier, Putin said Russia will follow through with the bailout even if the opposition comes to power in Kiev, while making that support contingent on Ukraine’s “future economic strategy.”

Merkel welcomed the agreement reached to discuss the impact of EU pacts on Russia as part of its so-called Eastern Partnership, according to the chancellery’s statement.

“This should be about clearing misunderstandings,” Merkel’s top spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in the statement.

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