Ukraine issues arrest warrant for ex-leader Yanukovych over ‘mass murder’

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev questions the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new leadership, saying Western countries which accept it are mistaken

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 2014, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 5:43am

Ukraine’s acting government issued a warrant on Monday for the arrest of President Viktor Yanukovych, last seen in the pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, accusing him of mass crimes against protesters who stood up for months against his rule.

Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial, after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after snipers attacked protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Monday questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new leadership and said that Western countries which accept it are mistaken, in his first reaction to the transfer of power in Kiev.

“Strictly speaking, there is no one for us to communicate with there today. The legitimacy of a whole number of organs of power that function there raises great doubts,” he was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.

“Some of our foreign, Western partners think otherwise ... This is some kind of aberration of perception when people call legitimate what is essentially the result of an armed mutiny,” Medvedev said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

The turmoil has turned this strategically located country of 46 million inside out over the past few days, raising fears that it could split apart. The parliament speaker is suddenly nominally in charge of a country whose economy is on the brink of default and whose loyalties are torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.

Ukraine’s acting interior minister, Arsen Avakhov, said on his official Facebook page on Monday that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians.” At least 82 people, primarily protesters, were killed in clashes in Kiev last week.

Avakhov says Yanukovych arrived in Crimea on Sunday and relinquished his official security detail then drove off to an unknown location.

After signing an agreement with the opposition to end a conflict that turned deadly, Yanukovych fled the capital for eastern Ukraine. Avakhov said he tried to fly out of Donetsk but was stopped, then went to Crimea.

Tensions have been mounting in Crimea, where pro-Russian protesters raised a Russian flag on a city hall in one town and scuffled with police. Russia maintains a big naval base in the Crimean port of Sevastopol that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades.

Yanukovych set off a wave of protests by shelving an agreement with the EU in November and turning toward Russia, and the movement quickly expanded its grievances to corruption, human rights abuses and calls for Yanukovych’s resignation.

“We must find Yanukovych and put him on trial,” said protester Leonid Shovtak, a 50-year-old farmer from the western Ivano-Frankivsk region who came to Kiev’s Independence Square to take part in the three-month protest movement. “All the criminals with him should be in prison.”

Watch: Ukraine ushers in new era as president flees

The speaker of parliament assumed the president’s powers Sunday, even though a presidential aide told reporters on Sunday that Yanukovych plans to stay in power.

The speaker, Oleksandr Turchinov, said top priorities include saving the economy and “returning to the path of European integration,” according to news agencies. The latter phrase is certain to displease Moscow, which wants Ukraine to be part of a customs union that would rival the EU and bolster Russia’s influence. Russia granted Ukraine a US$15 billion bailout after Yanukovych backed away from the EU deal.

US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt said the US is ready to help Ukraine get aid from the International Monetary Fund.

The European Union, meanwhile, is reviving efforts to strike a deal with Ukraine that could involve billions of euros in economic perks. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is visiting Kiev on Monday and Tuesday.


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