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Ukraine

Putin and Yanukovych to meet on sidelines of Sochi

Russian President Putin is scheduled to meet with Ukrainian President Yanukovych on the sidelines at Sochi. The embattled Ukraine leader is facing a political crisis prompted in part by relations with Moscow.

Ashton in the Ukraine for talks

The Russian news agency Interfax quoted a Kremlin spokeman on Wednesday as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin would hold talks with Yanukovych this week when both leaders attended the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi.

Their meeting would likely take place on the sidelines of the opening ceremony on Friday.

"[Putin] will indeed be there and they will indeed meet," Putin's spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, adding "there will be communication."

Yanukovych's attendance was announced earlier this week by his foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara. However, his office had previously not confirmed a planned meeting with the Russian president.

Brussels-Moscow wrangle

Moscow has played a prominent role in the political crisis gripping Ukraine. In November, Ukrainian President Yanukovych chose to forego a long-awaited Association Agreement with the European Union, opting instead to accept a $15-billion( 11 billion-euros) Russian loan and a deal which lowered gas prices from Russia several weeks later.

The Ukrainian premier defended that bailout as a necessary measure to keep country's economy afloat.

Yanukovych's step back from EU relations prompted mass protests in Kyiv, where pro-EU activists have been calling for his resignation. Tensions escalated in January with the deaths of several demonstrators in clashes with police.

The political crisis has worried Western leaders, with calls from the EU to bring a peaceful end to the standoff. Russia has, for its part, accused Brussels and Washington of interfering in Ukraine.

However, the instability of the government in Kyiv has also taken its toll on relations with Moscow. Putin recently signalled that the loan would be put on hold pending the formation of a new government in Ukraine.

EU to discuss aid with Yanukovych

On another visit to Kyiv, the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, was scheduled to meet with Yanukovych on Wednesday. She met with opposition leaders the previous evening.

The European Union and the United States said earlier in the week that they were considering options for providing financial assistance to Ukraine if the country managed to resolve its political crisis.

German-Ukraine tensions

Meanwhile, Germany has toughened its stance toward the situation in Kyiv. Following Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's warning that continued unrest and political deadlock could result in sanctions, the Ukraine government summoned German ambassador Christof Weil.

The Ukrainian Foreign Minister said the domestic political situation in Ukraine should be assessed objectively and that "provocative statements" should be avoided.

Ukrainian lawmakers also planned to reconvene on Wednesday. During a special session on Tuesday, Ukraine's parliament could not agree on reducing the powers of the president by introducing a new amendment to the constitution, a reform which the opposition has demanded as step toward ending the crisis.

kms/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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