Press apprehensive as standoff continues in Kiev

Ukrainian newspapers (clockwise from left): Den, Uryadovyy Kuryer, Kommersant Ukraine, Segodnya, Ukrayina Moloda Ukrainian newspapers (clockwise from left): Den, Uryadovyy Kuryer, Kommersant Ukraine, Segodnya, Ukrayina Moloda

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Tension is palpable in the regional press after Ukrainian police moved to clear Kiev's government district of pro-EU protesters. Pictures of riot police in the snow-covered capital dominate the front pages in Ukraine, while some commentators are suspicious of President Viktor Yanukovych's offer of talks.

In Russia, the government's mouthpiece accused the West of helping to organise and pay for the protests in Kiev.

But an Italian magazine argues that the Kremlin's own track record on civil liberties is responsible for turning so many Ukrainians away from Russia.

'Under siege'

"The sledgehammer is not a European argument!" proclaims the front-page headline in the Ukrainian government's daily Urydadovyy Kuryer. It is printed next to a picture of a protester trying to smash up the statue of Lenin toppled on Sunday.

"The demonstrators' radical actions can undo efforts aimed at continuing Ukraine-EU talks on the association deal and normalising ties with Russia. They can also worsen the social and economic situation in Ukraine," warns the caption.

A photo of riot policemen in full combat gear dominates the front page of Ukrainian pro-government tabloid Segodnya. "Maidan under siege," says the headline, referring to the main protest camp in Kiev.

Ukrainian newspaper Uryadovyy Kuryer front page showing a protester smashing a statue of Lenin Uryadovyy Kuryer's front page

"Pressure for dialogue" is the main headline in Den, an independent broadsheet in Ukraine. "Protesters are demanding that both the government and the opposition listen to the people," says the paper. But, the daily adds, it has been impossible so far to start talks between the conflicting sides.

Den is unimpressed with President Viktor Yanukovych's agreement to hold talks with three previous presidents of Ukraine, who have come out in support of the demonstrators. "What the presidents are going to talk about is their own contribution to the system against which Maidan is protesting," Den quips.

'Unwelcome'

In Russia, the government's official newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta accuses the West of meddling in Ukraine's affairs. According to the daily, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is coming to Kiev uninvited on Tuesday, and her visit is "unwelcome".

"EU envoys are hypocritically declaring their desire to reconcile the opposition and the authorities, and make them sit at the negotiating table," says the paper. "But, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta sources, the acts of civil disobedience in Kiev are being coordinated through closed internet networks based in the USA, Georgia and Poland."

"Intoxicated by support from European commissioners and well-paid by Western sponsors, the [Ukrainian] opposition is not prepared for dialogue," Rossiyskaya Gazeta concludes.

A commentary in Russian business daily Vedomosti disagrees with President Vladimir Putin's description of the Kiev rallies as a simple "riot". "This assessment of the events in Ukraine can only be viewed as provocative," the article says. According to the daily, the protests were provoked by the Ukrainian government's "endless lies and its Soviet-style arbitrary decision" not to pursue an association deal with the EU.

Another reason, the paper goes on, was pent-up dissatisfaction with the government: "Had the association crisis never happened, people would have probably taken to the streets because of something else.

Opposition 'divided'

Leading Polish centre-left daily Gazeta Wyborczadaily, is suspicious of President Yanukovych's offer of talks. "Maybe Yanukovych only intents to pretend holding a round table, in order to buy himself time to reach a deal with either Russia or the West," the paper suggests. "He still may believe that he holds all cards in his hands and will get what he wants."

But Rzeczpospolita, Poland's paper of record, urges the opposition in Ukraine to accept any offer of talks. "It is not clear if negotiations would yield any result. But it is better to negotiate than to see the Soviet Union rise from the dead," the daily says.

In Germany, the website of the Sueddeutsche Zeitung broadsheet warns European officials against focussing their support on just one opposition leader in Ukraine, Vitali Klitschko. "Brussels and Berlin are looking at the situation in Ukraine from a Eurocentric point of view and with a considerable dose of self-assurance," says the article. "The Ukrainian opposition is more than one man. It is divided even though it calls itself united."

Italian news magazine Panorama website looks at the reasons why so many Ukrainians are keen on closer ties with Europe rather than Russia. "To their eyes Russia's future appears distressing," says the article. "Putin maintains control over the country largely through corruption, using as leverage the vast cash resources generated from natural gas and distributed through trusted placemen, and in all this, progress and individual liberty do not figure."

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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