* Thousands pour into Kiev for fourth anti-Yanukovich rally
* Opposition warns against Moscow "sell-out"
* U.S. Senator McCain: "Your destiny is with Europe"
By Richard Balmforth and Gabriela Baczynska
KIEV, Dec 15 The European Union said on Sunday
it was halting work on a landmark trade and political pact with
Ukraine, hardening their rift even as tens of thousands took to
the streets of Kiev urging President Viktor Yanukovich to mend
ties with Brussels.
EU enlargement chief Stefan Fuele said on Twitter the words
and deeds of Yanukovich and his government on the deal were
"further and further apart".
His announcement came as 200,000 people braved sub-zero
temperatures in Kiev to rally for the fourth weekend in a row
against Yanukovich's decision not to sign the EU pact at a
summit last month and concentrate instead on closer ties with
The EU had kept its offer on the table but Fuele said on
Sunday the Ukrainian government's subsequent arguments on the
terms of the deal had "no grounds in reality". "Work on hold,"
Fuele's words suggested the EU has lost patience with Kiev's
demands for financial aid and was irritated at the way the bloc
was being forced to take part in a 'bidding war' with Russia
The focus was now on a visit Yanukovich is due to make to
Moscow next Tuesday to tie up trade agreements with the Kremlin
to help the distressed Ukrainian economy.
The opposition fears he may take the first steps towards
joining a Moscow-led customs union, together with Belarus and
Kazakhstan, which they see as an attempt by President Vladimir
Putin to re-create the Soviet Union.
"He might as well stay in Moscow and not come back to Kiev
if a customs union agreement is signed," declared an opposition
leader and former economy minister Arseny Yatsenyuk. "We'll give
him a really warm welcome if he sells out Ukraine."
"The Kremlin wants to take its revenge on Ukraine, divide
Ukraine and drown it in blood," said far-right nationalist
leader Oleh Tyahnybok. "We forbid this president to sign
anything in Moscow that contradicts the interests of the
Protesters called for another mass rally on Tuesday to
monitor Yanukovich's trip to Moscow. Prime Minister Mykola
Azarov said late on Sunday he expected a deal on lower prices
for Russian gas deliveries to Ukraine.
Yanukovich may be attempting to keep the attention of both
Moscow and Brussels to strike as good a deal as possible to
handle its huge debt and outstanding gas payments to Moscow. But
it is a hazardous manoeuvre running the risk of alienating both
'DESTINY IN EUROPE'
The anti-government protesters received powerful
encouragement on Sunday as U.S. Senator John McCain addressed
the crowd on Kiev's Independence Square, telling them their
destiny lay in Europe.
"We are here to support your just cause, the sovereign right
of Ukraine to determine its own destiny freely and
independently. And the destiny you seek lies in Europe," said
McCain, a leading Republican voice on U.S. foreign policy.
Street protests erupted after Yanukovich's decision on Nov.
21 to walk away from the agreement with the EU, after years of
careful preparation, and turn to Moscow, Kiev's Soviet-era
overlord, for aid to save Ukraine's economy.
Yanukovich's policy swerve, while backed by many in
Russian-speaking east Ukraine which is his powerbase,
disappointed and angered many in western and central areas where
people feel close ties to Europe.
The presence of McCain at the anti-government rally after a
weeks-long stand-off between demonstrators and the authorities
further highlighted the geo-political East-West tug-of-war with
Ukraine at its centre.
The Republican senator is the latest of a string of European
and American dignitaries to tour the sprawling protest camp set
up behind barricades of benches, metal barriers, supermarket
trollies and wire netting on the square - known locally as the
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has accused Western
politicians of "crude" meddling in Ukraine.
The movement began as a pro-EU protest. But after a police
crackdown on a group of mainly students and a later face-off
between police and protesters last Wednesday, it has broadened
into an outpouring of anger against perceived sleaze and
corruption in the country Yanukovich has led for four years.
BATTLE FOR SOUL
Protesters characterise it as a battle for Ukraine's soul.
McCain, who met the trio of opposition leaders - the former
boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko as well as Yatsenyuk and
Tyahnybok - said: "We ... want to make it clear to Russia and
Vladimir Putin that interference in the affairs of Ukraine is
not acceptable to the United States."
Speaking to media after addressing crowds, he said news of
Brussels suspending talks with Kiev was "very disturbing".
McCain later met Yanukovich and shook hands, though details
of what they discussed were not immediately available.
Yanukovich, whose allies hold a majority in parliament and
who still appears to command loyalty in the security forces,
seems likely to hang on to power despite the strength of
peaceful rallies and opposition calls for early elections.
Much may depend now on what sort of deal he can cut with
Putin next Tuesday on cheaper gas and credits, how well he can
present it to his people and how quickly any help will trickle
down to Ukraine's creaking economy.
But any step by Yanukovich towards the Moscow-led customs
union will be a dangerous one for him to take.
His popularity has already suffered hugely from the crisis,
the opposition has been re-energised, the faith of key
stakeholders such as the oligarchs has been shaken and he can no
longer assume re-election in 2015 is in the bag.
Klitschko's UDAR party called on Sunday for the dismissal of
Andriy Kluyev, one of Yanukovich's closest security aides,
blaming him for attempts to break up the protests by force.
On Sunday, the crowds gathered on Independence Square were
smaller than a week before but no less determined.
"I am here against the criminal authorities, joining Europe
is a secondary goal," said Oleksander Vdovin, 25, an engineer in
Kiev wrapped in a Ukrainian flag.
Yanukovich's supporters have also staged rival rallies
nearby on Saturday and Sunday.
"We are here because an effort to destabilise the country
has begun. I voted for the president, I'm here to back him,"
said Nikolai, 61, who works in the southern Ukrainian port of