Ukraine crisis: Russia to release new $2bn tranche

An anti-government demonstrator walks past a currency exchange office in Kiev. Photo: February 2014 Ukraine's national currency, the hryvnia, faces further devaluation

Russia will provide Ukraine with a new $2bn (£1.2bn) tranche of aid "this week", Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov has said.

In December, Moscow pledged $15bn to back Ukraine's struggling economy, but so far only $3bn has been transferred.

Russia had hinted it would freeze the aid until a new government is formed after Ukraine's PM quit last month.

The new tranche is seen as a boost to embattled President Viktor Yanukovych, who is facing mass protests.

In a separate development, Ukraine's opposition is planning to press for a vote in parliament on the return to the country's 2004 constitution - a move which would limit Mr Yanukovych's powers and could lead to snap presidential elections.

The opposition is also calling for a big rally outside the parliament building in the capital Kiev.

However, pro-presidential MPs - who have a majority - are expected to block any attempt to weaken Mr Yanukovych's powers.

Ukraine's unrest began in November, when Mr Yanukovych backed away from a landmark association and free trade deal with the European Union, and instead agreed the loan with Russia.

Moscow wants Ukraine to join the Russia-led Customs Union, where Belarus and Kazakhstan are also members.

Both the EU and Russia have accused each other of interfering into Ukraine's affairs.

Capital flight

On Monday, Mr Siluanov said Moscow would buy £2bn worth of Ukrainian eurobonds this week.

Ukraine protesters leave City Hall in Kiev

The Russian minister provided no further details.

However, a Ukrainian government source was quoted by Reuters as saying the money was expected to arrive on Wednesday.

The Kremlin had hinted strongly that the aid would be frozen unless a new government acceptable to Moscow would be in place.

President Yanukovych is expected to name a new prime minister to replace Mykola Azarov within days.

Ukraine's heavily-indebted economy is struggling to recover from a recession and has been shaken by capital flight in recent months.

The country's foreign currency reserves have been depleted by repeated moves to prop up the national currency, the hryvnia, which is facing further devaluation.

Amnesty deal

On Monday, an amnesty for anti-government protesters in Ukraine came into force after protesters had ended their occupation of government buildings in Kiev and in the regions.

The prosecutor's website said criminal charges would be dropped after the opposition had left Kiev city hall and other locations.

Protesters had held some of the buildings for more than two months.

But a sprawling tent city - widely known as Maidan - remains in Kiev's central square, where some denounced the decision to end the occupations.

The protesters also partially dismantled barricades on Hrushevskyy Street, which was the scene of deadly clashes earlier this year.

On Friday, authorities freed the last of 243 prisoners who were arrested during the unrest.

The opposition is now pressing for all pending criminal cases to be closed - the authorities say this will be done within a month.

Lawmakers passed the amnesty law last month and agreed to negotiate with the opposition after at least four people were killed in protests.

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