MOSCOW — Russia questioned the legitimacy of the new Ukrainian authorities on Monday, with its prime minister saying it sees the turmoil in Ukraine as a threat to both Russian citizens and Russian interests in Ukraine.
The statement by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was the strongest criticism yet from Russia, which had backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled the capital of Kiev after striking a deal with the opposition. The Ukrainian parliament on Saturday quickly ousted him and set new elections for May, and its new speaker has been named Ukraine’s caretaker president.
Russian news agencies quoted Medvedev as saying the new authorities in Ukraine have come to power as a result of “armed mutiny.” He lashed out at what he called the EU’s recognition of the new authorities as an “aberration of consciousness.”
He said Russia would be ready to resume relations with Ukraine once it sees a “normal, modern government based on laws and constitution of Ukraine.”
“If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government, then it will be hard for us to work with that government,” he said.
Medvedev added that Russia’s decision to recall its ambassador in Kiev for consultations meant that “there is a threat for our interests, and for life and health of our people in the embassy.”
On Monday Ukraine’s acting government issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych, accusing him of mass crimes against the protesters who stood up for months against his rule. Yanukovych himself has reportedly fled to pro-Russian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
Arsen Avakhov, the acting interior minister, said on his official Facebook page Monday that a warrant has been issued for the arrest of Yanukovych and several other officials for the “mass killing of civilians.”
Calls are mounting in Ukraine to put Yanukovych on trial, after a tumultuous presidency in which he amassed powers, enriched his allies and family and cracked down on protesters. Anger boiled over last week after government snipers killed scores of protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine’s post-Soviet history.
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 now nominally in charge of a country whose failing economy is on the brink of default and whose loyalties are sharply torn between Europe and longtime ruler Russia.
“The state treasury has been torn apart, the country has been brought to bankruptcy,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a protest leader and prominent lawmaker whose name is being floated as a possibility for prime minister, said in parliament Monday.
Ukraine’s acting finance minister said Monday that the country needs $35 billion (25.5 billion euros) to finance government needs this year and next and expressed hope that Europe or the United States would help.
Tensions have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine, where pro-Russian protesters gathered in front of city hall in the port of Sevastopol on Monday chanting “Russia! Russia!”
Russia maintains a large naval base in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades.
“Extremists have seized power in Kiev and we must defend Crimea. Russia must help us with that,” said Anataly Mareta, head of a Cossack militia in Sevastopol.
The head of the city administration in Sevastopol quit Monday, and protesters replaced a Ukrainian flag near the city hall building with a Russian flag.
Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel by telephone Sunday and the German government said the two agreed that Ukraine’s “territorial integrity must be respected.” They said Russia and Germany share a common interest in a politically and economically stable Ukraine.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.