Reuters, Kiev :
Ukraine’s interim leadership pledged to put the country back on course for European integration now that Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich had been ousted from the presidency, while the United States warned Russia against sending in its forces.
As rival neighbours east and west of the former Soviet republic said a power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to the country breaking apart, acting president Oleksander Turchinov, late on Sunday, said that Ukraine’s new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a “new, equal and good-neighbourly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine’s European choice”.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Ukraine on Monday, where she is expected to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy.
Russia, on Sunday, had said that it had recalled to Moscow its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations on the “deteriorating situation” in Kiev.
A day after Yanukovich fled to the Russian-speaking east following dozens of deaths during street protests aimed at toppling him, parliament named new speaker Turchinov as interim head of state. An ally of the ousted leader’s long-jailed rival Yulia Tymoshenko, he aims to swear in a government by Tuesday that can provide authority until a presidential election on May 25.
With battle-hardened, pro-Western protesters in control of central Kiev and determined to hold their leaders to account, lawmakers rushed through decisions to cement their power, display their rejection of rampant corruption and bring to book officials who ordered police to fire on Independence Square.
But whoever takes charge as interim prime minister faces a huge challenge to satisfy popular expectations and will find an economy in deep crisis.
Scuffles in Russian-speaking Crimea and some eastern cities between supporters of the new order in Kiev and those anxious to stay close to Moscow revived fears of separatism that a week earlier were focused on the west, where Ukrainian nationalists had disowned Yanukovich and proclaimed self-rule.
President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, was asked on US television about the possibility of Russia sending troops to Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin had hoped Yanukovich would keep closely allied to Moscow.
“That would be a grave mistake,” Rice said. “It’s not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It’s in nobody’s interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.”
Yanukovich’s flight into hiding left Putin’s Ukraine policy in tatters, on a day he had hoped eyes would be on the grand finale to the Sochi Olympics. The Kremlin leader spoke on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose foreign minister had brokered a short-lived truce in Kiev on Friday.
They agreed Ukraine’s “territorial integrity” must be maintained, Merkel’s spokesman said in a statement.
British foreign secretary William Hague was asked if Russia might “send in the tanks” to defend its interests among ethnic Russians in the east and on the Crimea peninsula, where Moscow bases its Black Sea Fleet: “It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing,” he told the BBC.
Earlier this month, a Kremlin aide had warned that Moscow could intervene.
It is unlikely the United States and its allies in Nato would risk an outright military confrontation with Russia but such echoes of the Cold War underline the high stakes in Ukraine, whose 46 million people and sprawling territory are caught in a geopolitical tug of war.
EU officials offered financial aid to a new government and to revive a trade deal that Yanukovich spurned under Russian pressure in November, sparking the protests that drove him from office after 82 deaths last week, many from police sniper fire.
Reuters, Kiev :