Ukraine's new rulers dismantle power structure

Richard Balmforth
Sunday, 23 Feb 2014 | 1:17 PM ET

Ukraine's new rulers, just 24 hours after ousting President Viktor Yanukovych, began speedily to unstitch his power structure on Sunday, appointing a provisional leader to replace him and sacking his key ministers.

At an emergency parliament session, they worked at breakneck pace to dismantle the coterie of ministers and cronies he had gathered around him since coming to power in 2010.

Yanukovych remained at an undisclosed location somewhere in eastern Ukraine, still protesting against the "bandits terrorizing the country" and declaring himself a legitimate president who had fallen victim to a coup d'etat.

Policemen run amid flames during clashes with anti-government protesters in front of the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev.
Anatolii Stepanov | AFP | Getty Images
Policemen run amid flames during clashes with anti-government protesters in front of the Ukrainian Parliament in Kiev on February 18, 2014. Police on Tuesday fired rubber bullets at stone-throwing protesters as they demonstrated close to Ukraine's parliament in Kiev.

But with defections from his Party of the Regions now swelling opposition ranks in parliament, opposition deputies found no difficulty in parliament in pushing through decisions that took to pieces the political house he had built.

(Read more: Ukraine government ousts president, who flees Kiev)

Oleksander Turchinov, who was earlier given the duties of speaker, was temporarily handed the role of president—a particularly bitter pill for the fugitive Yanukovych since Turchinov is a confidant of his arch-rival Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshekno on Sunday said she does not want to be considered for the post of prime minister.

In an address to the nation on Sunday, Turchinov said Ukraine would try to improve relations with Russia but made clear that Kiev's return to European integration would be the priority.

Yanukovych's foreign minister, Leonid Kozhara, who defended his boss's swerve away from the European Union in the face of an outcry in the West, was one of the first to go.

Education Minister Dmitry Tabachnik, an unpopular figure accused by many of bringing a pro-Russia interpretation of Ukrainian history to school primers, quickly followed.

Security chiefs targeted

Law enforcement bodies and leading figures were particularly targeted because of their involvement in clashes with protesters that killed at least 82 people before Yanukovych fled Kiev.

Interior minister Vitaly Zakharchenko—a hate figure for the protest movement—was stripped of his post on Friday and, like others, has gone into hiding.

When the new police and security chiefs took the rostrum on Sunday they announced orders for the detention of Yanukovych's incomes minister Oleksander Klimenko—a particularly close ally—and his prosecutor-general Viktor Pshonka.

(Read more: Russia: We will support Ukraine's return to normality)

Pshonka has been identified with the prosecution of Tymoshenko, which ended with her being jailed in 2011 to seven years for abuse of power as prime minister.

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Parliament heard that Pshonka and Klimenko had initially been detained at an airport in the eastern town of Donetsk but escaped after armed men entered the VIP lounge and began shooting.

"An investigation has been opened and an investigating-operational group is working for the detention of these people to bring them to trial," said Oleh Makhnytsky, acting prosecutor general.

Under pressure, too, from the Maidan—the name given now to the protest movement that brought Yanukovych down—the new leaders said police and others who had shot at people or given orders to shoot would be brought to book.

"Since yesterday, operational measures have been going on to stop criminals who fired at people or gave the orders (to shoot) from leaving the territory of Ukraine. Any person who gave the order to fire must be detained," said Nalivaychenko.

(Read more: Russia's Lavrov: Ukraine's opposition fails to deliver on deal)

Acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said an investigation had been opened up to identify those who had exceeded their powers during the mass protests in Ukraine. Thirty possible suspects had already been identified among police, he said.

Though Avakov said police were investigating "grave crimes ... by former state leaders", no order was given for the detention of Yanukovych himself.

His precise whereabouts were unknown on Sunday, though he may be in his stronghold in the eastern city of Donetsk.

Border guards said on Saturday he had tried to leave Donetsk on a chartered plane for an undisclosed destination, but after being refused permission, his security guards drove him away by car.

Though Parliament did not issue an order for his arrest, deputies found a way of hurting him nonetheless—ruling that the 140-hectare estate outside Kiev where he lived in sumptuous style should be returned to the state within 10 days.

In parliament, his support finally collapsed, with Oleksander Yefremov, until Sunday a dutiful head of the party faction, now denouncing his former master for issuing "criminal orders" that brought deaths, empty state coffers, huge debts and "shame on the Ukrainian people".



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