Fragile Ukraine fears fragmentation, economic trauma

With no new government in place, country faces separatist rumblings and needs billions in aid to stabilize economy

A member of a self-defense unit stands guard at the parliament building in Kiev, Feb. 25, 2014. Ukraine's parliament voted Tuesday to send ousted President Viktor Yanukovich to be tried for "serious crimes" by the International Criminal Court after he is captured.
David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

Ukraine is in desperate need of financial aid and a stable government amid an all-out manhunt for its ousted president and concerns that the country may split along pro-Russian and pro-European lines.

The Ukrainian parliament on Tuesday delayed the formation of a new government as officials grappled with political tensions — both domestic and international — and economic challenges after the ouster over the weekend of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovich.

His whereabouts remain unknown. He was last reportedly seen in Crimea, a pro-Russian area. Andriy Klyuev, a former Yanukovich aide, was injured by gunfire on Tuesday and hospitalized. It was not immediately clear if Yanukovich was with Klyuev.

Parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchinov, who was named Ukraine's interim leader after Yanukovich fled the capital, said a new government should be in place by Thursday instead of Tuesday, as he indicated earlier.

Turchinov is nominally in charge of this strategic country of 46 million people, whose ailing economy faces the risk of default and whose loyalties are sharply divided between Europe and Russia.

Law enforcement agencies have issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovich for the killing of 82 people, mainly protesters — the bloodiest violence in Ukraine's post-Soviet history — which led to his fleeing the capital on Friday after signing a deal with opposition leaders to end months of violent clashes between protesters and police.

The parliament sacked some of Yanukovich's lieutenants and named their replacements, but it has yet to appoint the new premier and to fill all government posts.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a top figure in the protests, suggested that Yanukovich should be tried in the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Meanwhile, a campaign for May 25 presidential elections was launched Tuesday, with a Yanukovich archrival, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko widely seen as a top contender for the post.

She was freed Saturday after spending two and a half years in prison. Her lawyer said, however, that she has not yet decided whether to run for office.

On Monday, Turchinov moved quickly to open dialogue with the West, saying at a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton that the course toward closer integration with Europe and financial assistance from the EU were "key factors of stable and democratic development of Ukraine."

Turchinov told Ashton that Ukraine and the EU should immediately revisit the closer ties that Yanukovich abandoned in November in favor of the $15 billion bailout loan from Russia that set off a wave of protests. Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to a massive public uprising and demands for Yanukovich's resignation.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev condemned Ukraine’s new authorities Monday, saying that they came to power as a result of an "armed mutiny" and that "there are big doubts" about their legitimacy.

"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.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov adopted a more conciliatory tone Tuesday, saying the country would not interfere with Ukraine’s efforts to form a new government. He also issuing warnings to the United States and the EU not to interfere in shaping the ex-Soviet state's future.

He said it is dangerous and counterproductive to try to force on Ukraine a choice of "you are either with us or against us." Lavrov was speaking at a joint news conference after talks with Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn.

Both Russia and the West should "use contacts with different political forces in Ukraine to calm the situation down ... and not seek to achieve unilateral advantages at a time when national dialogue is needed," Lavrov said.

Although Russia has questioned the interim authorities' legitimacy, European Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly referred to Turchinov as the "interim president."

Tensions, meanwhile, have been mounting in Crimea in southern Ukraine. Russia maintains a large naval base there in Sevastopol that has strained relations between the countries for two decades. Pro-Russian protesters gathered in front of city hall in the port of Sevastopol this week, chanting "Russia! Russia!"

On Tuesday, a Russian flag had replaced the Ukrainian flag in front of the city council building. An armored personnel carrier and two trucks full of Russian troops made a rare appearance on the streets, vividly demonstrating Russian power in this port, the second-largest in Ukraine.

There are concerns that culturally divided Ukraine could come apart after three months of upheaval. Russia and the West have emphasized publicly that they do not want that to happen.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's position on the turmoil in Ukraine will be crucial to the future of Crimea and Ukraine. In recent days, Putin has spoken to President Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other leaders to discuss the Ukrainian crisis.

Ukraine is struggling to bring stability to its economy, and this will be the first order of business for a newly formed government.

Its acting Finance Minister Yuri Kobolov said Tuesday the country needs $35 billion to cover this year and next and expressed hope that Europe or the U.S. would help, hopefully within the next two weeks. Ukraine has major debt repayments coming up in June, but analysts indicate it probably won't make it that far without help.

The money would help the government pay salaries and pensions and maturing bonds. Turchinov says the treasury account used to pay bills is almost empty.

The Institute of International Finance, a Washington-based association of banks and financial companies, warned that Ukraine's finances "are on the verge of collapse."

Ukraine has already burned the main international financial rescuer, the International Monetary Fund, by failing to keep to the terms of bailouts from 2008 and 2010.

Now it needs help again, and its economic and financial problems are worse than before.

The government went through about a tenth of its $17.8 billion in foreign reserves last month to support the currency, which has fallen 6 percent since the protests began.

Al Jazeera and wire services 

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