Protesters hold posters calling for the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich at a demonstration in December. Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images
With Ukraine's recently deposed president, Viktor Yanukovych, on the run, Ukraine's interim government drew up a warrant Monday for the fugitive president's arrest in the killing of anti-government protesters last week, while Russia issued its strongest condemnation yet of the new leaders in Kiev, deriding them as "Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks."
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev strongly condemned the new authorities, saying they came to power as a result of an "armed mutiny" and their legitimacy is causing "big doubts."
Medvedev said Russia was withdrawing its ambassador to Ukraine and that the decision reflected the presence of a threat to Russia's interests and the lives of its citizens.
Medvedev wouldn't say what action Russia might take to protect its interests.
"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," Medvedev said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the West on Monday for turning a blind eye to what Moscow described as the opposition reneging on an agreement signed Friday to form a unity government and aiming to "suppress dissent in various regions of Ukraine with dictatorial and, sometimes, even terrorist methods."
The Ministry alleged Russians are now being targeted in what it called the West's attempt to promote the "forced change of power" in Ukraine. There have been "calls for an almost complete ban on Russian language, … closing unwanted media and removal of restrictions on the promotion of neo-Nazi ideology," the Ministry statement said.
Moscow also reportedly threatened an economic blowback for the move toward Europe that acting president Oleksander Turchynov promised when he was voted in by parliament Sunday.
Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev warned Ukraine in an interview on Monday that Moscow will raise import duties on goods if Kiev signs a partnership agreement with the European Union.
"We say to Ukraine, you have the right to go your own way," he was quoted as telling German business daily Handelsblatt. "But we will then be forced to raise import duties."
Man on the run
Ukraine's acting government issued an arrest warrant Monday for Yanukovich, accusing him of mass crimes against the protesters who stood up for months against his rule.
Calls mounted to put Yanukovich 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.
As parliament moved against Yanukovich over the weekend and into Monday, reports emerged that volunteer militias have been forming in pro-Yanukovich swaths of the country, stoking fears that violence between pro-Western and pro-Russian Ukrainians could erupt. The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning to Ukraine, saying there were reports of sporadic violence against travelers and journalists.
Yanukovich now accompanied only by his chief aide and a handful of security guards, is believed to be in the pro-Russian stronghold of Crimea after zigzagging furtively around eastern Ukraine in a bid to find a safe haven. He and his entourage shut down their communication systems, Ukraine's interim Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said, in a move to avoid being tracked.
"An official case for the mass murder of peaceful citizens has been opened," Avakov wrote on Facebook. "Yanukovich and other people responsible for this have been declared wanted."
It was an ignominious political development for Yanukovich, who has been publicly deserted by some of his closest allies and stripped of his luxury residence outside Kiev. He also has witnessed the release of his imprisoned archrival Yulia Tymoshenko, all within a few days.
More than 80 people were killed in Kiev last week, most of them anti-government protesters, in a bloody climax to a three-month, largely peaceful campaign against Yanukovich's policies.
Yanukovich is believed to still be on the Crimean Peninsula, where part of Russia's Black Sea fleet is anchored and where the opposition movement enjoys little sympathy.
Al Jazeera and wire services