25 Feb 2014

Ukraine leadership concerns over ‘dangerous separatism’

“Dangerous signs of separatism” are emerging in some regions of Ukraine, the country’s interim president says as he prepares to meet law enforcement agencies.

Pro-Russian protests in Sevastopol

Oleskander Turchynov said he was meeting with agencies to discuss how to tackle the issue, days after the overthrow of Moscow-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.

Following Yanukovych’s ousting, there have been demonstrations in some areas of the more traditionally pro-Russian east of Ukraine. There were violent clashes in the city of Kerch, in Crimea, on the weekend.

It is understood that Yanukovych fled to Crimea, and there have been rumours that he boarded a Russian ship in Sevastapol, where Russia has a naval base.

On Tuesday morning, Ukraine’s parliament voted in favour of trying him at the International Criminal Court for “serious crimes”. A resolution linked Yanukovych to police violence against protesters which caused the deaths of more than 100 people and injured 2,000.

The resolution also seeks to send two of his close allies, former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka, to the ICC at the Hague.

It claims that the police tortured protesters by holding activists naked in temperatures of minus 15 degrees.

A spokesman for the ICC said that it had not yet received a request from Ukraine’s government to investigate the events leading up to the ousting.

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Russia has been calling for western governments to not dictate the future shape of Ukraine. On Tuesday, Foreign Minister Sergie Lavrov said: “It is dangerous and counter-productive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle: ‘You are either with us or against us.’

“We are interested in Ukraine being a part of a common European family in all meanings of this word.”

However, the Russian President Vladimir Putin has yet to make any public pronouncements on the unrest. He discussed the situation with top security officials on Tuesday morning at a meeting of the security council.

Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, is in Ukraine to offer “strong support”. She said that whilst “we know and understand the strong links between Ukraine and Russia”, there must be a “strong message” about Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Economic ‘crisis’

She also said the focus in Ukraine should be on solving short-term problems. Perhaps the biggest of these problems in the country’s struggling economy.

On Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague flew to Washington for emergency talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry, aimed at solving Ukraine’s economic “crisis”.

Mr Hague has warned that Ukraine’s financial situation “may not be sustainable” following the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, and could lead to further instability in the country.

“An economic crisis in Ukraine would be a grave threat to the country’s stability and have damaging wider consequences,” he told MPs on Monday.

The US has pledged to provide support to Ukraine to “get it back to economic stability.”

Jay Carney, White House spokesman, said: “The United States, working with partners around the world, stands ready to provide support for Ukraine as it takes the reforms it needs to, to get back to economic stability.

“This support can complement an IMF (International Monetary Fund) programme by helping to make reforms easier and by putting Ukraine in a position to invest more in health and education, to help develop Ukraine’s human capital and strengthen its social safety net.”

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The foreign secretary has also been in contact with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Russia is understood to be extremely angry with the outcome of the Maidan protests, which is has labelled an “armed mutiny”. It says the legitimisation of the interim leadership by international powers is an “aberration”.

However, Mr Hague said Mr Lavrov had emphasised Russia’s commitment to Ukraine‚Äôs territorial integrity.

He told MPs that the Russian foreign minister had not raised any prospect of military intervention in the country.

“Any notion of this kind is manifestly not in the interests of Russia, as well as not in the interests of Ukraine. I hope that point is well understood,” he said.

Mr Hague flies out to Washington as Ukraine is expected to complete its interim government, ahead of presidential elections in May.

A number of political leaders are expected to be in the running for top jobs in the interim government, including Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of the opposition Fatherland party who was a vocal part of the Maidan protests, head of the Udar party and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko, and Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right Svoboda party who was also a key figure in the protests.

Yulia Tymoshenko, the former prime minister who was freed from jail on the weekend, is expected to run for president. She has been reported to be heading to Berlin for treatment on her back.

Meanwhile, mystery still surrounds the location of ousted president Viktor Yanukovich. It is understood that the president fled to Balaclava in Crimea, and there has been speculation that he may have boarded a Russian ship at the naval base in Sevastapol.