Ukraine issues arrest warrant for Yanukovych over ‘mass murder’

Agence France-Presse

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Ukraine issues an arrest warrant for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. as the country's new rulers launch a probe over the 'mass murder' of protesters

WANTED. In this photo, Ukraine's then President Viktor Yanukovych speaks during live interview with Ukraine's main television channels in Kiev on December 19, 2013. Muykhylo Markiv/Ukranian Presidential Press Service/Handout/AFP

KIEV, Ukraine (UPDATED) – Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the “mass murder” of protesters and appealed for $35 billion in Western aid to pull the crisis-hit country from the brink of economic collapse.

The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet nation’s new Western-leaning team – approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader go into hiding – came as a top EU envoy arrived in Kiev to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow.

Three months of unceasing protests over Yanukovych’s shock decision to spurn an historic pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with its old masters in the Kremlin culminated in days of carnage last week in Kiev that claimed almost 100 lives.

Ukraine’s new interim head of the federal police said he held Yanukovych and his team of feared security insiders directly responsible for the 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 on 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 3cars 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 financial chiefs meeting in Sydney at the weekend raised the possibility of drumming up a huge rescue package that could fill in for $15 billion promised to Yanukovych by Russian President Vladimir 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 $35 billion (25 billion euros)” by the end of next year.

He urged Western nations and the International Monetary Fund to convene a donor conference in the next two weeks that would focus on “allocating aid to modernize and reform Ukraine”.

Western rescue

Russia’s vocal displeasure at the changes convulsing its neighbor has translated into fears in Kiev 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.

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

“No government in Ukraine has ever worked in such extreme conditions,” the 49-year-old told an emergency parliament hearing.

Adding to the pressure, Russia’s economy minister warned Moscow will raise import duties on its goods if Kiev signs a partnership agreement with the EU.

Financial assistance from European powers was set to dominate the agenda of a two-day visit by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who arrived in Kiev Monday.

Her office said her talks with Ukraine’s new leaders would focus on finding “a lasting solution to the political crisis and measures to stabilise the economic situation”.

British finance minister George Osborne said the European Union stood ready to provide financial backing but did not specify the potential amount.

“Ukraine seem to have demonstrated their wish to take their country into the future and to have stronger links with Europe and I don’t think we should be repelling that, we should be embracing that,” Osborne told reporters in Singapore.

The European Union last year extended the promise of 610-million-euro ($840-million) loan if it adopted a comprehensive economic restructuring package prescribed by the IMF.

Economists believe a much larger figure may be coming Ukraine’s way shortly despite EU leaders’ hesitance to take the politically unpopular decision of releasing vast sums of foreign assistance at a time of high unemployment and slow growth.

“Assuming that Russia may find it now less appealing to financially back Ukraine, we see a new IMF deal increasing in probability,” City Research said in a note.

London’s Capital Economics consultancy said Ukraine probably needed a bailout of around $20 billion to sustain its finances over the next year.

Russia’s anxiety about the changes sweeping its western neighbour were underscored Sunday when it recalled ambassador Mikhail Zurabov “due to the escalation of the situation in Ukraine.”

Dismantling old regime

Turchynov vowed Sunday to draw up a “government of the people” and warned Russia that he expected the Kremlin to respect Ukraine’s pivot to the West.

He 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 a new presidential poll on May 25.

Turchynov is a close ally of Yulia Tymoshenko – an iconic but divisive former premier who was released by parliament on Saturday from a controversial jail sentence she was handed by Yanukovych’s team – and is not himself expected to run for the presidency.

Tymoshenko began to build up her credentials on Sunday by fielding a telephone call from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and meeting a string of Western ambassadors in Kiev.

But her spokeswoman stressed that the 53-year-old – who had appeared before the crowds in a wheelchair on Saturday because of back problems — had made no decision about running in May. –

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