KIEV: Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for its ousted pro-Russian president over “mass murder” and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid as Moscow denounced Kiev’s new reformist team as illegitimate.
The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation’s untested but enthusiastic Western-leaning ministers – approved by Parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw President Viktor Yanukovych go into hiding – came as the EU’s top diplomat arrived in Kiev to buttress Ukraine’s sudden tilt away from Russia.
Three months of relentless protests over Yanukovych’s shock decision to spurn an historic pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Ukraine’s old masters in the Kremlin culminated in days of carnage last week in Kiev that claimed almost 100 lives.
Russia reacted with outrage to the “mutiny” in a country with centuries-old roots to Moscow, and which President Vladimir Putin views as an integral part of an economic – and possibly even military – alliance to counterweight the EU and NATO blocs.
But Western powers have been cautiously throwing their weight behind the overthrow of a democratically elected leader by parliamentary action whose constitutional legitimacy remains open to debate.
Ukraine’s new leaders hit the ground running Monday by holding Yanukovych and about 50 other senior state and security officials responsible for the protesters’ deaths.
“A criminal case has been launched over the mass murder of peaceful civilians. Yanukovych and a number of other officials have been put on a wanted list,” acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.
Avakov said Yanukovych had tried to flee the country Saturday out of the eastern city of Donetsk – his political power base and bastion of pro-Russian support – before escaping to Crimea with a team of guards and a cache of weapons the next day.He said the deposed head of state and his powerful administration chief Andriy Klyuev had since “traveled by three cars into an unknown direction, having first switched off their modes of communication.”
Ukraine has been reeling from both political and financial crises that have seen the nation of 46 million face the threat of splintering between its pro-Western and more Russified regions and having to declare a devastating default.
World finance chiefs from Europe, the United States and the International Monetary Fund were discussing how to help out Ukraine – which could see $15 billion promised to Yanukovych by Putin put on permanent hold.
Ukraine’s interim Finance Minister Yuriy Kolobov said the “planned volume of macroeconomic assistance for Ukraine may reach around $35 billion [25 billion euros]” by the end of next year.
Russia’s vocal displeasure at the changes convulsing its neighbor has translated into fears that Moscow’s massive rescue may be abandoned after only one payment of $3 billion that came through in December and has been used up.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued one of Moscow’s firmest responses to date by condemning the “armed mutiny” in Ukraine. “The legitimacy of a whole number of organs of power that function there raises great doubts,” he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
“Some of our foreign, Western partners think otherwise,” Medvedev fumed. “This is some kind of [an] aberration.”
French President Francois Hollande spoke with Putin Monday saying a “peaceful transition” was necessary to assure that the country remained unified, and lead to elections and vital reforms.
Ukraine’s interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov warned that Kiev would have no alternative but to default on $13 billion in foreign obligations due this year should the West fail to fill in for any suspended aid from Moscow.
Financial assistance was set to dominate the agenda of a two-day visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose talks Monday with Ukraine’s interim leader focused on finding a lasting solution to the political crisis and stabilizing the economy.
London’s Capital Economics consultancy said Ukraine probably needed a bailout of around $20 billion to sustain its finances over the next year.
Adding to the diplomatic effort, Washington is sending Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Kiev Tuesday, while Britain announced that Foreign Secretary William Hague will visit Ukraine “shortly.”
The United States has stopped short of endorsing Ukraine’s interim leader. White House spokesman Jay Carney noted that Yanukovych was “not actively leading the country at present” and called for a technocratic government to promote early elections.
Turchynov has until Tuesday to cobble together a coalition Cabinet and find a prime minister willing to take up the challenge of keeping Ukraine from falling off the economic cliff before the presidential polls.
Turchynov is a close ally of Yulia Tymoshenko – an iconic but divisive former premier who was released by Parliament Saturday from a controversial prison sentence she was handed by Yanukovych’s team – and is not himself expected to run for the presidency.
Tymoshenko’s spokeswoman stressed that the 53-year-old – who had appeared before the crowds in a wheelchair Saturday because of back problems – had made no decision about running for president in May.
Her website Monday said that Tymoshenko had accepted an invitation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to receive treatment on her back in Berlin.