The Kremlin threatened Ukraine with trade losses worth billions and costing hundreds of thousands of jobs if it signed up to a strategic pact with the European Union, senior Lithuanian officials have said.

A week before a critical EU summit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, that was to be capped by the Brussels-Kiev pact, the Ukrainian president,Viktor Yanukovych, abruptly pulled out of the deal on Thursday, leaving EU policy in shreds and Vladimir Putin relishing victory in the contest for Ukraine’s future.

The volte face was a result of Russian blackmail, said the Lithuanian president’s office as senior officials in Brussels griped that Yanukovych was sacrificing the hopes and wishes of most of his countrymen on the altar of Russian money and contracts.

The prime minister, Mykola Azarov, told lawmakers on Friday that Ukraine could not afford to lose trade with Russia and suggested the EU did not offer Ukraine any compensation for that. He also complained that the conditions the International Monetary Fund had set for rescuing its struggling economy with a bailout loan were impossible to fulfil.

“What will be our compensation for the huge losses from losing the customs union market, what, I am asking you?” Azarov asked, referring to an economic alliance of former Soviet republics being pushed by Moscow. “Unfortunately, we did not receive a realistic answer to this question.”

Members of the opposition party, dressed in sweaters reading “Freedom to Ukraine” and “Ukraine is Europe“, responded by booing Azarov, throwing stacks of paper at his ministers and moving towards his seat in order to physically block the speech.

The opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk denounced the government’s decision as state treason, accusing Yanukovych of selling out to Moscow in exchange for cash and ensuring his re-election in 2015.

“This is a well-planned scenario by Yanukovych: how to sell the Ukrainian state and to buy himself a seat of the governor of Little Russia as part of the great Russian empire,” he said.

Echoing the calls of the Orange Revolution protests of 2004-05 – of which she was a co-leader – Yulia Tymoshenko called on Ukrainians to take to the streets in protest against the government’s decision.

The jailed opposition leader’s lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, read a letter from the 52-year-old former prime minister in which she wrote: “I am calling on all people to react to this as they would to a coup d’etat – that is: get out on to the streets.”

The thunderbolt from Yanukovych has already brought pro-European protesters on to the streets of central Kiev before what promises to be a weekend of campaigning climaxing in a large rally on Sunday. About 1,500 took to the streets waving EU flags on Thursday evening. Organisers expect tens of thousands to join the protests on Sunday.

Jovita Neliupšienė, a foreign policy aide to the Lithuanian president, Dalia Grybauskaitė, said Yanukovych had called her before announcing he was ditching the EU pact, arguing that the pressure from Moscow was irresistible. Yanukovych and Putin had a secret meeting last week. The Ukrainian and Russian prime ministers then met in Saint Petersburg on Wednesday. see more

source: Guardian Uk