Ukraine assembly wants Yanukovich tried in international criminal court

EU urges Russian support as Ukraine delays forming new government

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 4:35pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 February, 2014, 9:18pm

Ukraine’s parliament voted on Tuesday to send fugitive President Viktor Yanukovich to be tried for ‘serious crimes’ by the International Criminal Court once he has been captured.

A resolution, overwhelmingly supported by the assembly, linked Yanukovich, who was ousted on Saturday and is on the run, to police violence against protesters which had caused the deaths of more than 100 citizens from Ukraine and other states and injured 2,000.

The resolution said two of Yanukovich’s close allies – former interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko and former prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka who are also being sought by the authorities – should also be sent for trial at the ICC, which is based in The Hague.

Over the three months of street unrest and anti-government protests, it said, authorities under Yanukovich had systematically abused their power.

Methods of torture, used by police against protesters, included holding activists naked in temperatures of 15 degrees below freezing, it said.

“Parliament asks the International Criminal Court to hold Viktor Yanukovich and other high-level people criminally responsible for “issuing and carrying out openly criminal orders”, it said.

Oleh Myrny, a deputy of the nationalist Svoboda (Freedom) party, said: “If we don’t take this decision, we will not move forward.”

A spokesman for the court said on Tuesday it had not received a request from the Ukrainian government to investigate the events leading up to Yanukovich ouster.

“A government can make a declaration accepting the court’s jurisdiction for past events,” said court spokesman Fadi El Abdallah, adding that it would then be up to the court’s prosecutor to decide whether or not to open an investigation.

Yanukovich fled Kiev on Friday night with his chief aide. Ukraine’s acting interior minister says Yanukovich is now wanted for “mass murder”.

He has travelled to the pro-Russian region of Crimea and other Ukrainian cities since then, the new authorities say, but his precise whereabouts are unknown.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief called on Tuesday for Russia to assist Ukraine as the ex-Soviet state struggles to resolve its worst crisis since independence.

“It is very important that Russia as a very important neighbour of Ukraine also lends its support to ensure the country can move forward in a way it wishes to,” Catherine Ashton told journalists during a two-day visit to Kiev.

She also stressed “the importance of the strong links between Ukraine and Russia and the importance of having them maintained”.

Ashton sought to ease Moscow’s fears following a dramatic week of rapid-fire change in Ukraine that has seen the opposition-dominated parliament oust Kremlin-allied president Viktor Yanukovych after scores of people were killed when protests exploded into violence in Kiev.

The initial demonstrations were sparked when Yanukovych spurned a historic deal in November with the EU in favour of closer ties – and a now-stalled US$15 billion bailout – from former master Russia.

“We offer support, not interference for the future,” Ashton said after meeting with lawmakers and laying flowers at a shrine for dead anti-Yanukovych protesters.

Western countries have warned Moscow to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity after the Kremlin blasted its new leaders as mutineers, amid fears that the country’s pro-Russian east could agitate for partition.

Interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov on Tuesday delayed the appointment of a new interim unity government until Thursday as the country teeters on the brink of financial collapse.

Kiev has warned it needs US$35 billion over the next year to avoid ruin and called on Western donors to step up to the plate urgently.

Ashton however offered no concrete commitments of economic assistance, saying only that the International Monetary Fund was “very keen” to meet the future new government.

“The new government needs to be inclusive and needs expertise and a credible economic plan and to restore law and order everywhere,” she said.

She also urged “independent investigations” into last week’s bloodbath after an arrest warrant was issued for fugitive president Yanukovych.

EU officials had said Monday that Brussels was not ready to sign the ground-breaking political and trade pact that was at the root of the crisis.

“I think our idea is that we must let a transition process go to its final point and once we have a government we will be ready to discuss again,” Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said.

Ukraine’s interim leader on Tuesday delayed the appointment of a new unity government until Thursday as the country struggled to find a way out of its most serious crisis since independence.

“On Thursday a coalition of national faith must be elected,” interim president Oleksandr Turchynov told legislators in parliament, where a new cabinet and prime minister had been due to be unveiled on Tuesday.

The move came as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned Kiev that the Ukraine must not be forced to choose between close ties with Russia or the West,

The comment was the latest in a series of warnings from Moscow to the European Union and United States not to try to shape the ex-Soviet state’s future.

“It is dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle: ‘You are either with us or against us’,” Lavrov told a joint news conference after talks with Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

It is dangerous and counterproductive to try to force upon Ukraine a choice on the principle: ‘You are either with us or against us
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

Lavrov told a joint news conference after talks with Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

Both Russia and the West should “use contacts with different political forces in Ukraine to calm the situation down ... and not seek to achieve unilateral advantages at a time when national dialogue is needed,” Lavrov said.

There are concerns that culturally divided Ukraine could potentially come apart after three months of upheaval that forced out the president. Both Russia and the West have emphasised publicly that they do not want this to happen.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France 2 television that nobody was trying to force a choice on Ukraine.