February 23

Ukraine parliament head takes presidential powers

Russian news agencies say the top priorities for the ‘new’ regime include saving the economy and 'returning to the path of European integration.'

By Jim Heintz and Angela Charlton
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Other demonstrators objeccted.

“She is just as corrupt as Yanukovych,” said 28-year-old Boris Budinok. “We need new faces in Ukrainian politics. The old ones brought us to where we are now.”

Tymoshenko’s admirers remember her as the most vivid figure of the Orange Rvolution, which forced a rerun of a fraud-riddled presidential election purportedly won by Yanukovych. After the new vote, won by Viktor Yushchenko, Tymoshenko became prime minister.

But she and Yushchenko quarreled intensely and their government was a huge letdown for those who had hoped it would help integrate Ukraine into Europe. Detractors also look askance at her for her years at the helm of Unified Energy Systems, a middleman company that was the main importer of the Russian natural gas on which Ukraine depends. Nicknamed “The Gas Princess,” she was accused of giving kickbacks to then-premier Pavlo Lazarenko, who is no imprisoned in the United States for fraud. Later, as deputy prime minister, she pushed through reforms of the energy sector that some said did little more than fill the pockets of her associates.

Susan Rice, President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed during a telephone conversation Friday that a political settlement in Kiev should ensure the country’s unity and personal freedoms. Rice also said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that it would be a “grave mistake” for Russia to intervene militarily in Ukraine.

The Kremlin has been largely silent about whether it still supports Yanukovych. Putin, who presided over the close of the Sochi Olympics, has not spoken about recent events in Kiev. He had developed a productive working relationship with Tymoshenko when she was Ukraine’s prime minister.

Russia recalled its ambassador from Kiev for consultations because of the developments in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on its website.

The conviction that sent Tymoshenko to prison was for allegedly negotiating an excessively high price for Russian gas.

Russian legislator Leonid Slutsky said Sunday that naming Tymoshenko prime minister “would be useful for stabilizing” tensions in Ukraine, according to Russian news agencies.

Russia’s finance minister urged Ukraine to seek a loan from the International Monetary Fund to avoid an imminent default.

Tensions mounted in Crimea, where pro-Russian politicians are organizing rallies and forming protest units and have been demanding autonomy from Kiev. Russia maintains a big naval base in Crimea that has tangled relations between the countries for two decades.

A crowd of pro-Russia demonstrators in the Crimean city of Kerch, following a rally Sunday at which speakers called for Crimea’s secession, marched toward city hall chanting “Russia! Russia!” and tore down the Ukrainian flag. Marchers scuffled with the mayor and police officers who tried but failed to stop the crowd from hoisting a Russian flag in its place.

The political crisis in this nation of 46 million has changed with blinding speed in the past week.

In a special session Sunday, the parliament voted overwhelmingly to temporarily hand the president’s powers to speaker Turchinov. He stuck with Tymoshenko even as others deserted her in her roller coaster political career.

The legitimacy of the parliament’s flurry of decisions in recent days is under question. The votes are based on a decision Friday to return to a 10-year-old constitution that grants parliament greater powers. Yanukovych has not signed that decision into law, and he said Saturday that the parliament is now acting illegally.

However, legal experts said that de facto the parliament is now in charge.

Presidential aide Hanna Herman told the AP on Sunday that Yanukovych was in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv as of Saturday night and plans to stay in power.

Protesters smashed portraits of Yanukovych and took down statues of Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin in several towns and cities. On Sunday, some pro-Russian protesters took up positions to defend Lenin statues in Donetsk and Kharkiv. Statues of Lenin across the former U.S.S.R. are seen as a symbol of Moscow’s rule.

Associated Press writers Maria Danilova, Yuras Karmanau and Dusan Stojanovic in Kiev, Lynn Berry in Moscow, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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