UKRAINE’S acting government yesterday issued an arrest warrant for the president, Viktor Yanukovych, accusing him of mass crimes against the protesters who stood up for months against his rule.
With calls mounting to put the nation’s ousted leader on trial, Mr Yanukovych has reportedly fled to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a pro-Russian area.
The speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, Oleksandr Turchinov, is now nominally in charge of a country whose ailing economy is on the brink of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and long-time ruler Russia.
The latest development in a tumultuous week comes amid heightening international tension surrounding the unstable political climate in Ukraine. Mr Turchinov appealed for urgent international help to stop the economy “heading into the abyss”. Raising the possibility of Kiev defaulting on its debt, he said the country needed £21 billion over the next two years.
Foreign Secretary William Hague warned that Ukraine could face imminent economic collapse without support from the international community, while Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev questioned the authority of Ukraine’s acting government, claiming they had taken control as a result of an “armed mutiny”.
Mr Turchinov said he hopes to form a new coalition government by today, while acting interior minister Arsen Avakhov said on his official Facebook page that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Mr Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians”. At least 82 people, primarily protesters, were killed in clashes in Kiev last week, sparked after Mr Yanukovych shelved an agreement with the European Union and instead opted for a bailout loan from Russia.
Mr Hague told MPs he would be raising the country’s financial plight in the wake of the ousting of Mr Yanukovych with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) when he visits Washington this week.
In a statement to the House of Commons, he said: “Ukraine’s financial situation is very serious and without outside assistance may not be sustainable. An economic crisis in Ukraine would be a grave threat to the country’s stability and have damaging wider consequences.”
Mr Hague, who left for the US last night, said the IMF was the organisation best placed to provide the financial support and technical advice the country needed.
But he added: “It requires a stable and legitimate government to be in place and a commitment to the reforms necessary to produce economic stability. International financial support cannot be provided without conditions and clarity that it will be put to proper use.”
Mr Hague, who discussed the issue by telephone with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, said it was not clear whether a Russian bailout package offered by Moscow to entice Mr Yanukovych not to sign an association agreement with the European Union would now go ahead.
While the EU offer remained “on the table”, he said it was vital that it did not become a “binary choice” for Ukraine between co-operation with Russia or co-operation with Europe.
“This is not about a choice for Ukraine between Russia and the EU. It is about setting the country on a democratic path for the future. We want the people of Ukraine to be free to determine their own future,” he said. “It is important that all channels of communication between the EU and Russia stay open.”
Mr Medvedev offered the strongest criticism yet from Russia, lashing out at what he called the EU’s recognition of the new authorities as an “aberration of consciousness”.
He added: “If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government.”
Matthew Day: Too early to talk of civil war despite bitter east-west split
The situation in Ukraine has, some have said, presented Europe with its biggest crisis since the bloody demise of Yugoslavia in the 1990s.
It’s an unsettling comparison. Yugoslavia was torn apart by a succession of wars, and now people argue Ukraine could suffer a similar fate as national groups within the country fight for their own destiny rather than that of the nation. The pro-Russian east of Ukraine will have nothing to do with the pro-Western west, and the country’s split.
Any country subject to the centrifugal forces Ukraine is now experiencing — violent political instability, economic crisis and external interference — would struggle to remain united. Under these forces, differences become divisions, divisions become cracks.
It is clear Ukraine’s crisis has widened the gap between the country’s east and west. The statements made by mayors and governments from eastern towns and provinces condemning the Maidan demonstrators contrasted sharply to what happened in the western city of Lviv where local authorities sided with the opposition.
The differences go beyond language and history. Eastern Ukraine plays home to much of the heavy industry that could suffer if relations between Ukraine and Russia soured. Moscow’s threat of trade tariffs if Kiev strengthens links with the EU has got people worried.
But to move from this to civil war and separation is another matter altogether.
Not everything is clear-cut. Ukrainians in the east of the country also aspire to many of the goals of the Maidan demonstrators. Freedom from corruption and dysfunctional governments is not just the preserve of those from the country’s west.
Things get also get fuzzy as there is no clear demarcation between the two. It makes it hard to fight for your country when no-one really knows where your country is.
Talk of civil war also disregards the strong sense of Ukrainian identity. Although modern Ukraine was born out of the break-up of the Soviet empire, it has the bonds of history and culture to hold it together, and it should not be forgotten that Ukrainians voted for independence in 1991 no matter where they lived.