Ukraine urges Russia not to promote separatism
Fugitive president’s whereabouts still a mystery as close aide ‘shot after resigning’
A man salutes during a memorial ceremony yesterday for those killed in recent violence in Kiev’s Independence Square. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters
Ukraine has urged regional officials and Russia not to foment separatism in a country battered by a bloody revolution and looming bankruptcy.
Kiev’s new authorities made the appeal as parliament voted to send fugitive president Viktor Yanukovich to the International Criminal Court in The Hague over his bloody crackdown on their revolution, and a key ally with whom he is thought to have fled was in hospital with gunshot wounds.
Ukraine’s interim leaders warned of rising tension in Crimea, a mostly ethnic-Russian peninsula where local politicians plan to hold an emergency meeting today to discuss appeals from local people to declare independence or seek Russian assistance.
Acting president Oleksandr Turchinov met security chiefs to discuss “the question of not allowing any signs of separatism and threats to Ukraine’s territorial integrity and punishing people guilty of this”.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leading member of the erstwhile opposition whom some tip to become prime minister, said the situation in Crimea was “very complicated” and called on Russia to “observe its obligations” regarding its naval base in the region.
“We will not put up with any attempts at separatism,” he added.
Moscow has rejected the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new rulers, who came to power when Mr Yanukovich fled violent protests last week, following clashes in which at least 82 people were killed and more than 600 injured, many after being hit by sniper fire.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov struck a more conciliatory note yesterday, however, saying Moscow held a “principled position of non-intervention in Ukraine’s internal affairs”.
“We are interested in Ukraine being part of the European family, in all senses of the word . . . It is dangerous and counterproductive to force Ukraine into a choice” between the west and Russia, he added.
With Ukraine teetering on the brink of default and requesting some $35 billion (€25.4 billion) in aid to see it through the next two years, the EU and IMF hope Moscow will assist with urgent financing to stabilise the country of 46 million people.
“I launch from here an appeal to all our international partners, in particular Russia, to work constructively with us to guarantee a united Ukraine that can be a factor for stability in the European continent,” European Commission chief José Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament.
“The winds of change are knocking again at Ukraine’s doors; the will of the people must prevail.”
Visiting Kiev, the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton insisted Brussels was offering Ukraine “support, not interference for the future”, and stressed “the importance of the strong links between Ukraine and Russia and the importance of having them maintained”.
Moscow has halted payment of a planned $15 billion loan to Kiev and an agreed cut in the price it pays for Russian gas is also under question, as the country appears poised to take a decisive turn towards the west.
But Russian banks and other businesses could suffer serious damage if Ukraine defaulted on its debts or suffered long-term economic paralysis.
Ratings agency Fitch warned yesterday that Russian banks had exposure to Ukraine of an estimated $28 billion, with state-owned lenders facing the greatest threat.
Ukraine’s authorities are trying to keep its economy moving while forming a new government and trying to find and bring to justice members of Mr Yanukovich’s regime.
A new cabinet is expected to be unveiled tomorrow after an announcement was postponed yesterday.
Mr Yanukovich’s whereabouts are still a mystery, but security officials say he was last seen on Crimea’s Black Sea coast late on Sunday night.
They said he was in the company of former national security adviser Andriy Klyuyev, who was yesterday being treated for gunshot wounds in a Kiev hospital.
His spokesman said he was shot after handing his resignation to Mr Yanukovich. But it was not clear last night who shot him, or where.