The opposing sides of Ukraine's political crisis have put their cases to world powers, with the opposition buoyed by pledges of support from the West and Ukraine's foreign minister accusing Europe of forcing his country into a strategic choice.
The developments came as the US and Europe held private meetings with the opposition in Munich, Germany, on Saturday and accused Russia of compelling Ukraine to enter into an unpopular alliance.
Addressing the Munich Security conference, Vitaly Klitschko, Ukrainian boxer turned opposition leader, said: "I leave the conference stronger because I feel huge support from friends of Ukraine. Everyone is afraid that instability in one of the largest countries in Europe could bring instability to the whole region."
He called for urgent steps to end the violence, and said everything now depended on the behaviour of President Viktor Yanukovich.
Yanukovich's decision two months ago not to sign an association agreement with the EU prompted fierce anti-government protests centred on Kiev's Maidan square.
Another opposition leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, told Al Jazeera: "We are receiving good signals from Europe and the US, but only the declaration of support is not enough.
"Today we think that they should give us a guarantee of financial and economic support after the victory. We are asking the world leaders for active support of Ukrainians."
On the other hand, Leonid Kozhara, Ukraine's foreign minister, speaking to Al Jazeera on the sides of the security meeting, called on his compatriots to distance themselves from the opposition, saying there was a "big misunderstanding between the government and the opposition".
And addressing the security conference, he said: "For the first time in our country, we can see extremist groups."
There are eight million ethnic Russians living in the country, he said.
"Do you think they are happy when European politicians say 'You must make a strategic choice, you must take Ukraine away from Russia and put it somewhere else'?"
Had Ukraine signed the association agreement, it would still have had a collapsing economy, while Russia made an attractive offer, Kozhara said.
|Kerry meets Ukraine's opposition leaders in Munich
Russia's $15bn loan has thrown Ukraine an economic lifeline.
For his part, John Kerry, the US secretary of state, said: "Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine.
"The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight."
He said that protesters believed their futures "do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced".
Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, was outnumbered in Munich by supporters of Ukraine's overtures to the EU.
He said "political choice was preordained for Ukraine" when the Western military alliance offered the country a path to membership in 2008.
Ukraine declined, but it cooperates with NATO on international peace missions, such as in Afghanistan.
"Here a choice is being imposed," Lavrov said, accusing some EU politicians of fomenting anti-Yanukovich protests by people who "seize and hold government buildings, attack the police and use racist and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans".
Differences between Russia and the Western allies on Ukraine and Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad, made for a chilly atmosphere on the Munich podium.
Kerry and other Western diplomats put the burden of responsibility for the violence in Ukraine on the government.
President Yanukovich has signed into law an amnesty for detained demonstrators and repealed anti-protest legislation.
Wounded activist's case
In another development, Kozhara, the Ukrainian foreign minister, granted Germany's request for an anti-government activist held captive for a week and severely beaten to be allowed to travel to the EU for treatment.
Dmytro Bulatov, a leader of the protest motorcades called Automaidan, reappeared on Thursday with his face badly beaten and with wounds to his hands, saying he had been tortured by his kidnappers.
However, Kozhara dismissed the injuries sustained by Bulatov as "a scratch".
"Physically this man is in a good condition. The only thing he has is a scratch on one of his cheeks," Kozhara told Al Jazeera.
"It looks like the alleged story that he was kidnapped and tortured is not absolutely true. The investigation is going on."
But Bulatov's lawyer told Al Jazeera that he was in intensive care unit after surgery.
"He was kidnapped, beaten up and tortured," Ruslan Radetski said. "The doctors haven't said yet when he will be able to leave the hospital, treatment is under way."
Ukraine's Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying that Kozhara had been misunderstood.
The comments "do not reflect the real attitude of Minister Kozhara on this tragic situation", it said.
"The minister is profoundly sorry for what happened to Dmytro Bulatov and wishes him a speedy recovery."
With additional reporting by Tamila Varshalomidze from Kiev