Ukraine issues arrest warrant for President Viktor Yanukovich
KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine's acting government issued an arrest warrant for President Viktor Yanukovich on Monday and warned the international community that the country needs $35 billion in aid to avert default.
Yanukovich slipped out of Kiev on Friday after signing a European Union-brokered agreement that ended bloody confrontation between police and opposition demonstrators by calling for an interim, multiparty government and early elections to replace the effectively deposed head of state.
The arrest warrant issued by the Interior Ministry said Yanukovich was sought on charges of mass murder for his role in last week's crackdown that killed at least 82 protesters and police. Analysts predicted it was only a matter of time before Yanukovich was captured, claiming that even many of those in his power base in the east of the country had tired of the corruption and self-enrichment of his government.
"A criminal case has been initiated into mass murders of peaceful civilians," acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote in a post on his Facebook page. "A warrant has been issued for the apprehension of Yanukovich and a number of other officials."
Avakov did not name the other officials.
Yanukovich's arrest wasn't sought sooner than Monday because the opposition-controlled acting government waited 48 hours for the president to sign the constitutional amendments agreed to last week in the presence of international mediators, said political scientist Igor Popov of the Kiev-based Politika Analytical Center.
Popov said a public trial of Yanukovich was necessary to calm the radical faction of protesters who have refused to leave Independence Square and remain armed with shields and clubs, on guard for further confrontation.
After parliament on Saturday freed Yanukovich rival and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison she appeared before more than 30,000 people at the square.
Tymoshenko, who had been serving a seven-year term on a conviction for abuse of power, a charge regarded by many Western governments as political retribution, spoke of "Yanukovich and his cronies" and the crowd chanted, "Yulia! Yulia! Yulia!"
The parliament set a presidential election for May 25. Officials said an interim coalition government may be formed by Tuesday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, has been virtually silent on the chaos engulfing Ukraine, a vital trade partner and a key piece of Putin's envisioned Eurasian Union, an aspiring economic bloc to rival the EU. Putin was busy hosting the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi until Sunday, and the complexity of Ukraine's internal rupture has probably encouraged the Kremlin to proceed cautiously on its neighbor's turmoil.
Too forceful an approach by Putin to securing Russian industrial and military interests in Ukraine and defending the rights of the 7.5 million minority Russians could encourage secessionist sentiments in the eastern regions, in particular the Crimean Peninsula where Russia's Black Sea Fleet is based. But passively watching from the sidelines while anti-Russian feelings fester among the victorious opposition in Western-leaning Kiev could damage Putin's image as staunch defender of Russian assets and populations in the now-independent states of the former Soviet empire.
President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have both called Putin over the last two days and cautioned him against any moves that could lead to Ukraine's breakup.
Although Putin has said little about Russia's views on the evolving political situation in Ukraine, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday disparaged the acting officials, many of them elected lawmakers, filling the power vacuum in Kiev until the new coalition government is seated.
"The legitimacy of a whole number of government institutions there evokes serious doubt," Medvedev said of Kiev, the Interfax news agency reported. "If you consider people in black masks and with Kalashnikovs strolling around Kiev to be a government, we will find it complicated to work with that."
Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Sunday that Moscow was suspending further release of $15 billion in promised loans and subsidies to Ukraine until it was clear who would be running the country. His remarks were a signal that the Kremlin was unlikely to extend the same help to a pro-Western Kiev leadership that it offered Yanukovich as incentive to stay within Russia's political and economic orbit.
Ukraine's interim leaders sounded the alarm Monday on the perilous state of the country's finances, calling for an international donors conference to design a bailout plan. Acting Finance Minister Yuri Kolobov estimated that Ukraine will need $35 billion in foreign aid over the next two years to pay maturing debt and keep government and industries working.
The uprising against Yanukovich began in November after the president's decision to scrap an association deal with the European Union that would have boosted Ukraine's trade with the West and eventually set a path for potential membership in the Western bloc.
On Monday, EU Economics Commissioner Olli Rehn said the association deal was still on offer.
"We are at a historical juncture, and Europe needs to live up to its historical moment and be able to provide Ukraine with accession prospects in the medium to long term — if it can meet the conditions of accession," Rehn said in Sydney, Australia, after a meeting of Group of 20 foreign ministers.
"We are ready to provide substantial financial assistance to Ukraine once a political solution, based on democratic principles, is finalized, and once there is a new government that is genuinely and seriously engaged in institutional and economic reform," Rehn said, referring to the massive waste and corruption that have pushed Ukraine's economy to the brink of bankruptcy.