AFP – Ukraine issued an arrest warrant Monday for ousted president Viktor Yanukovych over the “mass murder” of protesters and appealed for $35bn in western aid to pull the ex-Soviet country back from the brink of economic collapse.
The dramatic announcements by the ex-Soviet country’s new western-leaning ministers – approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw the pro-Russian leader flee into hiding – came as a top European Union envoy flew to Kiev to buttress its sudden tilt away from Moscow.
Three months of unceasing protests over Yanukovych’s decision to spurn an historic pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with its old masters in the Kremlin culminated in days of carnage in Kiev last week that claimed almost 100 lives.
Ukraine’s new interim head of the federal police said on Monday that 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 posted on his Facebook account.
Avakov said Yanukovych had tried Saturday to flee the country out of the eastern city of Donetsk – his political power base and bastion of pro-Russian support – before travelling on 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 financial chiefs meeting in Sydney over the weekend raised the possibility of coming up with 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 modernise and reform Ukraine”.
Russia’s vocal displeasure at the changes convulsing its neighbour has translated into fears in Kiev that Moscow’s massive rescue may be abandoned after only one payment of $3bn that came through in December and has been used up.
Ukraine’s new interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov warned on Sunday that Kiev would have no choice but to default on $13bn in foreign obligations due this year should the west fail to fill in for Moscow’s suspended aid.
Financial assistance from European powers was set to dominate the agenda of a two-day visit to Kiev by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton starting Monday.
Her office said the 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 failed to specify the potential amount.
“It is very, very early days, early hours, but the people of 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.
“We should be there ready to provide financial assistance through organisations like the IMF and of course a lot of this will take the form of loans and the like.”
The European Union last year extended the promise of €610m ($840m) 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 release huge 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.
Russia’s anxiety about the unanticipated changes sweeping its western neighbour were underscored Sunday when it recalled ambassador Mikhail Zurabov “due to the escalation of the situation in Ukraine”.
Turchynov vowed Sunday to draw up a “government of the people” and warned Russia that he expected the Kremlin to respect his country’s pivot to the West.
“We are ready for a dialogue with Russia… that recognises and takes into account Ukraine’s European choice,” the 49-year-old said in a television address.
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 25 May.
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 challenge 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 crowd in a wheelchair on Saturday because of back problems – had made no decision about running in May.