Ukraine's president has returned to Kiev after honouring his Russian ally with a visit to Sochi for the opening ceremony of Winter Olympics, a pet project of Vladimir Putin.  

Viktor Yanukovich, who has been battling anti-government protesters since he rejected a trade deal with EU in favour of closer ties with Russia, arrived back to Ukraine on Saturday, following a brief meeting with Putin.

Neither Russian nor Ukrainian officials disclosed the details of the two leaders' conversation except to say that it was brief and held at Sochi's Fisht stadium where the Games' opening ceremony was held.

"They had a conversation at the stadium," a Ukrainian administration spokesman said by telephone, according to the AFP news agency. "There was no official bilateral meeting. That was not a part of (the president's) programme."

Yanukovich had been expected to discuss with Putin the fate of a $15bn Russian bailout delivery which has been effectively frozen pending his decision on a new government, AFP added.

Worst crisis

The ex-Soviet country of 46 million was thrown into its worst crisis since independence in November when Yanukovich ditched an historic EU pact under Russian pressure in a stunning reversal that sparked violent protests that have claimed several lives.

The sustained protests that followed have since then played out as a struggle for the country's future between the West and Russia.

Yanukovich must now decide whether to submit to protesters' demands by taking a more conciliatory approach towards a new agreement with the European Union - a possibility that prompted Russia to suspend its bailout payments after issuing just one instalment of $3bn in December.

The Ukrainian leader has named his close ally, Sergiy Arbuzov, as acting prime minister and was expected to try and convince Moscow that the Kiev government was still committed to the terms of Putin's bailout deal.

Ukraine's economy is in urgent need of assistance amid sliding domestic production and dwindling foreign reserves that can barely afford foreign payments of about $10bn this year.

Source: AFP