Ukraine: Russia claims new government in Kiev is the result of an 'armed mutiny'

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's comments come after an arrest warrant was issued for President Yanukovich by the Ukrainian Interior Ministry

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The Independent Online

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has said his country doubts the legitimacy of Ukraine's acting government, following President Viktor Yanukovich's ousting on Saturday.

On Monday, Mr Medvedev accused the country's interim authorities of rising to power in an "armed mutiny".

His comments come while Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich is wanted for mass murder, the Interior Ministry announced on Monday, as speculation surrounds his whereabouts.

The Ministry has accused him of crimes against protesters after government snipers killed scores of protesters in the bloodiest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history.

63-year-old President Viktor Yanukovich fled for eastern Ukraine on Saturday, having been dismissed by the country's MPs.

By Sunday, Russia had recalled its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations on what it called the “deteriorating situation“ in Kiev.

Mr Yanukovich allegedly tried to fly out of the country from Donetsk on Saturday but was stopped by Ukraine's border service.

In a statement on his official Facebook page Monday, acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakhov claimed Mr Yanukovich arrived in a pro-Russian area of Crimea on Sunday, and relinquished his official security detail before droving off to an unknown location.

"An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened," he wrote. "Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted."

However, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry and Security Service in Crimea said on Monday that they had no such information regarding Mr Yanukovich's location.

Tensions have been mounting in Crimea following the unrest, where pro-Russian politicians are organizing rallies and demanding autonomy from Kiev.

But both the Russia-leaning east and the more pro-EU west have agreed that the power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to the country breaking apart.

On Sunday, the speaker of parliament, Oleksander Turchinov assumed the president's powers, but an aide of Mr Yanukovich said that Yanukovich plans to stay in power.

The interim leadership has pledged to further integrate Ukraine into Europe, following months of pro-European protests.

In Brussels, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly referred to parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov as the "interim president" and said Turchinov will meet with visiting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton in Kiev.

Mr Turchinov, an ally of the recently-freed Yulia Tymoshenko, said he aims to swear in a new government by Tuesday that can provide authority until a presidential election on 25 May.

He added late on Sunday that Ukraine's new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighbourly footing that recognises and takes into account Ukraine's European choice".

Since Mr Yanukovich’s absence, lawmakers have rushed in crowd-pleasing measures against the old administration, conscious that those still occupying Independence Square.

They also stripped Mr Yanukovich of his abandoned country home near Kiev, complete with ostrich farm and hot tubs.

International governments are now considering how to approach the future of the country.

Earlier this month, a Kremlin aide had warned that Moscow could intervene in Ukraine, which was met with concern by Western nations. 

President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, said on US television that Russian sending troops to Ukraine “would be a grave mistake.”

"It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate," she added.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed on Monday that he would being visiting Ukraine "shortly" and stressed Ukraine could face imminent economic collapse without support from the international community.

He also echoed Ms Rice's sentiments when asked by the BBC if Russia might “send in the tanks” to defend its interests among ethnic Russians in the east and on the Crimea peninsula, where Moscow bases its Black Sea Fleet.

“It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing,” he said.

Hague will travel to Washington later on Monday to discuss Ukraine with US Secretary of State John Kerry and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

He said the IMF was best placed to provide financial support and advice to Ukraine.

It is unlikely the United States and its allies in NATO would risk an outright military confrontation with Russia, but such echoes of the Cold War underline the high stakes in Ukraine, whose 46 million people and sprawling territory are caught in a geopolitical tug of war.

US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has encouraged Ukraine to begin discussions with the International Monetary Fund on an assistance package as soon as possible once a transitional government is in place in Kiev.

In Russia, where Putin had wanted Ukraine as a key part in a union of ex-Soviet states, the finance minister said the next tranche of a $15 billion loan package agreed to in December would not be paid, at least before a new government is formed.

But Didier Burkhalter, Switzerland's president and the chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, told the UN Security Council on Monday that "through its [the group's] impartiality and inclusivity, [it] has the necessary attributes to host and moderate" the international contact group.

The 57-member body includes all European Union members as well as Russia and the United States.

He told the council that the proposed contact group would coordinate and share information on international assistance and projects in Ukraine.

Burkhalter said violence and instability in Ukraine showed that "security in Europe cannot be taken for granted."  

Additional reporting by AP and Reuters