Ukraine has issued an arrest warrant for its ousted pro-Russian president over “mass murder” and appealed for $US35 billion ($A38.8 billion) in western aid as Moscow denounced Kiev’s new reformist team as illegitimate.
The dramatic announcements by the nation’s untested western-leaning ministers – approved by parliament over a chaotic weekend that saw president Viktor Yanukovych go into hiding – came as the EU’s top diplomat arrived in Kiev to buttress a sudden tilt away from Russia.
Three months of relentless protests over Yanukovych’s decision to spurn an historic pact with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Ukraine’s old masters in the Kremlin culminated in days of carnage last week in Kiev that claimed almost 100 lives.
Russia reacted with outrage to the “mutiny” in a country with centuries-old roots to Moscow, and which President Vladimir Putin views as an integral part of an economic – and possibly even military – alliance to counterweight the EU and NATO blocs.
But western powers have cautiously thrown their weight behind the overthrow of a democratically elected leader by parliamentary action whose constitutional legitimacy remains open to debate.
Ukraine’s new leaders hit the ground running on Monday by holding Yanukovych and about 50 other senior state and security officials responsible for the protesters’ deaths.
“A criminal case has been launched over the mass murder of peaceful civilians. Yanukovych and a number of other officials have been put on a wanted list,” acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said in a statement.
Avakov said Yanukovych had tried to flee the country on Saturday out of the eastern city of Donetsk – his political power base and bastion of pro-Russian support – before escaping to Crimea with a team of guards and a cache of weapons the next day.
He said the deposed head of state and his powerful administration chief Andriy Klyuev had since “travelled by three cars into an unknown direction, having first switched off their modes of communication”.
Ukraine has been reeling from political and financial crises that have seen the nation of 46 million face the threat of splintering between its pro-western and more Russified regions and having to declare a devastating default.
World finance chiefs from Europe, the US and the International Monetary Fund are discussing how to help out Ukraine – which could see $US15 billion ($A16.6 billion) promised to Yanukovych by Putin put on permanent hold.
The crisis in Ukraine has helped fuel a rise in oil prices on Monday, with analysts saying an angry Russia could halt natural gas supplies as it has done in the past.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev issued one of Moscow’s firmest responses to date by condemning the “armed mutiny” in Ukraine.
“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.
Ukraine’s new interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov warned that Kiev would have no alternative but to default on $US13 billion ($A14.4 billion) in foreign obligations due this year should the West fail to fill in for any suspended aid from Moscow.
Adding to diplomatic efforts, Washington is sending Deputy Secretary of State William Burns to Kiev on Tuesday, while Britain announced that Foreign Secretary William Hague will visit Ukraine soon.