Watch: Ukraine opposition's Timoshenko announces her run for president
Ukraine's divisive opposition icon Yuliya Tymoshenko completed an improbable return to politics yesterday by announcing plans to contest snap polls to replace the ousted pro-Russian president whose regime sent her to jail.
"I intend to run for president of Ukraine," the 53-year-old ex-prime minister told reporters after walking into a press room with the help of a walking stick she uses due to chronic back pain.
The brief but dramatic announcement encapsulates the spectacular changes that have swept the economically struggling and culturally splintered ex-Soviet state of 46 million in the past few weeks.
Tymoshenko was convicted in October 2011 for abuse of power and sentenced to a seven-year jail term that Western nations denounced as politically motivated.
But she emerged triumphantly from the state hospital in which she had spent most of her sentence under guard on February 22 - the day parliament ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych for his role in the deaths of nearly 100 protesters in Kiev earlier that month.
Tymoshenko's intervention came as it was claimed that nearly 100,000 Russian forces had massed on Ukraine's border. The figure was released by a top Ukrainian defence official in comments made to an American audience yesterday. It was far higher than US military estimates.
"Almost 100,000 soldiers are stationed on the borders of Ukraine and in the direction ... of Kharkiv, Donetsk," Andriy Parubiy, chairman of Ukraine's national security council, said via a webcast from Kiev.
"Russian troops are not in Crimea only, they are along all Ukrainian borders. They're in the south, they're in the east and in the north," Parubiy said.
Earlier, in a bid to stabilise the stricken nation, Ukraine won a US$27billion international financial lifeline.
The International Monetary Fund announced agreement on a US$14-18 billion standby credit for Kiev in return for tough economic reforms that would unlock further aid from the European Union, the United States and other lenders over two years.
"The financial support from the broader international community that the programme will unlock amounts to US$27billion over the next two years," the IMF said.
Without IMF-mandated austerity measures, the economy could contract by up to 10 per cent this year, Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk told parliament, explaining why his government had bowed to the fund's conditions. "Ukraine is on the edge of economic and financial bankruptcy," he said.
Kiev opened the way for the IMF deal by announcing on Wednesday a radical 50 per rise cent in the price of domestic gas from May 1 and promising to phase out remaining energy subsidies by 2016.
It also accepted a flexible exchange rate that is fuelling inflation, set to hit 12-14 per cent this year.
The prime minister said the price of Russian gas on which the nation depended might rise 79 per cent.
The White House said the IMF deal "represents a powerful sign of support from the international community for the Ukrainian government".
The international rescue for Ukraine was in sharp contrast to Western measures to isolate Russia diplomatically over the annexation of Crimea.
Reuters and Agence France-Presse