Armed men seized the parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea region Thursday and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev’s new rulers, who urged Moscow not move troops out of its navy base on the peninsula.
“Wanted” former president Viktor Yanukovych meanwhile surfaced in Russia Thursday, saying he was still president of Ukraine and warned its “illegitimate” rulers that people in the southeastern and southern regions would never accept mob rule. He was reported to have been granted protection by Russia.
In a statement sent to Russian news agencies, Yanukovych railed against the “extremists” who had stolen power in Ukraine, threatened violence against himself and his closest aides and passed “illegal” laws. Russian news agencies later said he planned to hold a news conference on Friday (1300 GMT) in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don Crimea, the only Ukrainian region with an ethnic Russian majority, is the last big bastion of opposition to the new leadership in Kiev since President Yanukovych was ousted at the weekend and provides a base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
“I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet,” said Oleksander Turchinov, Ukraine’s acting president. “Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory (the base) will be seen by us as military aggression,” he said, a day after 150,000 troops in western Russia were put on high alert.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry summoned Russia’s acting ambassador in Kiev for consultations as the face-off between Moscow and the West revived memories of the Cold War. The United States has called on Moscow to avoid doing anything risky over Ukraine, which has been in crisis since November last year, when Yanukovych abandoned a proposed trade pact with the EU and turned instead towards Russia.
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Russia said US Secretary of State John Kerry had proposed cooperation with Moscow to resolve the Ukraine crisis during a telephone call with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Thursday. The fresh turmoil sent the Ukrainian hryvnia tumbling to a new record low of 11 to the dollar on Reuters dealing platform. Ukraine’s new rulers pressed ahead with efforts to restore stability to the divided country, approving formation of a national coalition government with former economy minister Arseny Yatseniuk as its proposed head. Yatseniuk told parliament that Yanukovych had driven the country to the brink of collapse. He accused the deposed president of stripping state coffers bare and said $70 billion had disappeared into offshore accounts. “The state treasury has been robbed and is empty,” he said.