Ukraine: Russia recalls ambassador as Kiev turns towards EU

People hold a giant Ukrainian flag in Independence Square on 23 February 2014 in Kiev. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption World leaders have sought to keep up with fast-moving events in Ukraine

Russia has recalled its ambassador to Ukraine over what it described as the deteriorating situation in the country.

Moscow has condemned the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych, who was dismissed by MPs on Saturday.

Ukraine's newly appointed interim president, Olexander Turchynov, says the country will now focus on closer integration with the EU.

Mr Yanukovych's rejection of an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with Russia had triggered the unrest.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to arrive in Kiev on Monday to discuss EU support "for a lasting solution to the political crisis and measures to stabilise the economic situation".

US Secretary of State John Kerry has said the US strongly supports the Ukrainian parliament's vote to impeach Mr Yanukovych and call elections, the central demand of months of protests.

On Sunday, he said the vote offered "the best and most promising path forward to restore peace and stability", according to a statement.

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Media captionOlexander Turchynov: "This fight gave us unity and strength"

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine's opposition "had in effect seized power in Kiev, refused to disarm and continued to place its bets on violence".

He accused them of deviating from a political deal they signed with Mr Yanukovych on Friday, which aimed to end the protests after a week in which dozens of people were killed.

Russia said late on Sunday that it had recalled its ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, for consultations.

The move was announced after Mr Turchynov, a close ally of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, gave a televised address following his appointment as interim president.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ukrainian and European Union flags flew in front of the White House during a protest in the US on Sunday
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Image caption Mourners have been laying tributes in Kiev in memory of protesters killed in clashes with police
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Opposition supporters remain in Kiev's Independence Square, the focus of the anti-government protests

He vowed to set up a "government of the people", and said: "We have to return to the family of European countries."

He added: "We are ready for a dialogue with Russia... on a new, fair, equal and neighbourly basis, acknowledging and taking into account Ukraine's European choice."

Mr Turchynov said MPs had until Tuesday to form a new unity government.

Moscow recently agreed to provide $15bn (£9bn; 11bn euros) to support Ukraine's struggling economy, a move seen as a reward for Mr Yanukovych's controversial decision last year not to sign a long-planned trade deal with the EU.

But there are now fears Moscow could withdraw that offer.

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Media captionUkrainians in Kiev appear broadly optimistic about the future

A US official said US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew had discussed Ukraine with Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov on the sidelines of the G20 meeting in Sydney on Sunday.

Mr Siluanov reportedly left open the question of whether Russia would pay the next instalment of financial help for Ukraine, worth $2bn.

British Chancellor George Osborne said early on Monday that the UK was ready to provide financial support to Ukraine through international organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Some German government MPs have also called for swift financial aid to Ukraine, the BBC's Stephen Evans reports from Berlin.

There have been fears that the crisis may exacerbate divisions between the Russian-leaning east of the country and the more pro-EU west.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned Russia it would be a "grave mistake" to intervene militarily.

Yanukovych missing

Thousands of opposition supporters remain in Kiev's Independence Square - where they have been camped out since November - heeding opposition calls not to disperse.

The health ministry says 88 people, mostly anti-Yanukovych protesters but also police, are now known to have been killed in clashes that took place last week.

In a televised address on Saturday, before the parliamentary vote, Mr Yanukovych insisted he was Ukraine's lawfully elected president.

His whereabouts are not known. He was reportedly in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Friday. Unconfirmed reports have since put him in Donetsk in the southeast, or in Sevastopol, on the Crimean peninsula. There were unconfirmed reports he had tried to leave for Russia but was stopped.

MPs from Mr Yanukovych's Party of Regions now appear to be disowning him, having issued a statement criticising him to Interfax-Ukraine.

Former world champion boxer Vitaly Klitschko suggested to the BBC that he may make a bid for the presidency in elections scheduled for 25 May.

"I want to make Ukraine a modern European country," he said. "If I can do that through the president's position, I will do my best."

In other decisions on Sunday:

  • Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara and Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk were dismissed
  • Arrest warrants were issued for former Incomes Minister Oleksandr Klimenko and former Prosecutor-General Viktor Pshonka
  • Parliament lowered the official status of the Russian language by cancelling a law brought in by Mr Yanukovych
  • Parliament also voted to seize Mr Yanukovych's luxury estate near Kiev, which protesters entered on Saturday