SEVASTOPOL, Ukraine – With Viktor Yanukovych on the run, Ukraine’s interim government drew up a warrant Monday for the fugitive president’s arrest in the killing of anti-government protesters last week, while Russia derided the new leaders in Kiev, as “Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks.”
Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, the interim president, moved quickly to open a dialogue with the West, saying at a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that the course toward closer integration with Europe and financial assistance from the EU were “key factors of stable and democratic development of Ukraine.”
In a statement released by his office, Turchynov said Ukraine and the EU should immediately revisit the closer ties that Yanukovych abandoned in November in favor of a $15 billion bailout loan from Russia that set off a wave of protests.
Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.
Yanukovych, who fled Kiev on Saturday after the opposition took over government buildings, has reportedly gone to the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a pro-Russia area.
Security has been tightened across Ukraine’s borders, the Interfax news agency quoted the State Border Guard service as saying.
Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and family, and cracked down on protesters.
Anger boiled over last week after 82 people, primarily demonstrators, were killed in clashes with security forces in the bloodiest violence in the nation’s post-Soviet history.
Turchynov, the parliament speaker, is now nominally in charge of this strategic country of 46 million whose ailing economy faces the risk of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia. He said he hopes to form a new coalition government by today.
Although Russia has questioned the new government’s legitimacy, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly referred to Turchynov as the “interim president.”
The Obama administration also signaled Monday it no longer recognizes Yanukovych as president. And U.S. officials said the International Monetary Fund is considering an aid package as high as $15 billion to help stabilize a new, transitional government in Kiev.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. will provide additional aid to complement the IMF, aimed at fostering Ukrainian economic stability.
Ukraine has a large potential consumer market, an educated workforce, a significant industrial base and good natural resources, in particular rich farmland. Yet its economy is in tatters due to corruption, bad government and short-sighted reliance on cheap gas from Russia.
The public deficit is rising and the economy may be back in recession. The government burned through about a tenth of its $17.8 billion in foreign reserves last month to support the currency, which has fallen 6 percent since the protests began.
“The state treasury has been torn apart, the country has been brought to bankruptcy,” said Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a protest leader and prominent lawmaker whose name is being floated as a possible prime minister.