Russia questions legitimacy of Ukraine’s interim leadership

But the Ukraine’s new leaders hit the ground running on Monday by holding Viktor Yanukovich and about 50 other senior state and security officials responsible for deaths of protestes.

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KIEV // Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for its ousted pro-Russian president over “mass murder” and appealed for billions 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 Yanukovich go into hiding — came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kiev to buttress Ukraine’s sudden tilt away from Russia.

Three months of relentless protests over Mr Yanukovich’s shock decision to spurn a historic pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with its 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 that Russian president Vladimir Putin views as an integral part of an economic — and possibly even military — alliance counterweighting the EU and Nato blocs.

“Strictly speaking there is no one to talk to there. There are big doubts about the legitimacy of a whole series of organs of power that are now functioning there,” Russia’s prime minister Dmitry Medvedev said.

“Some of our foreign partners think differently, they believe they are legitimate ... I don’t know which constitution they’ve read ... But it seems to me it is an aberration to call legitimate what is essentially the result of an armed mutiny.”

But western powers have been cautiously throwing their weight behind the overthrow of a democratically elected leader by a parliamentary action whose constitutional legitimacy remains open to debate.

Ukraine’s new leaders hit the ground running on Monday by holding Mr Yanukovich and about 50 other senior state and security officials responsible for the protester deaths.

“A criminal case has been launched over the mass murder of peaceful civilians. Yanukovich and a number of other officials have been put on a wanted list,” acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said.

Mr Avakov said Mr Yanukovich 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 “travelled 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 meeting in Sydney at the weekend raised the possibility of drumming up a huge rescue package that could fill in for US$15 billion (Dh55bn) promised to Mr Yanukovich by Mr Putin — money that is now on potentially permanent hold.

Ukraine’s interim finance minister Yuriy Kolobov said the “planned volume of macroeconomic assistance for Ukraine may reach around $35bn” by the end of next year.

Russia’s vocal displeasure at the changes convulsing its neighbour has translated into fears that Moscow’s massive rescue may be abandoned after only one payment of $3bn that came through in December and has been used up.

Russia’s finance minister added to the pressure by warning that Moscow would have to raise duties on its goods if Kiev reversed Mr Yanukovich’s decision and still signed the EU partnership pact.

But a European Commission spokesman said such a deal could not be finalised until after Ukraine’s May 25 snap presidential election because this needed to be “a full sovereign choice”.

Ukraine’s new interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov warned that Kiev would have no alternative but to default on $13bn in foreign obligations due this year should the West fail to fill in for Moscow’s suspended aid.

Agence France-Presse