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U.S. warns Russia as Ukraine plots a course for recovery

Anti-government protests in Ukraine

(Reuters) - Ukraine's interim leadership pledged to put the country back on course for European integration now Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich had been ousted from the presidency, while the United States warned Russia against sending in its forces.

As rival neighbors east and west of the former Soviet republic said a power vacuum in Kiev must not lead to the country breaking apart, acting president Oleksander Turchinov said late on Sunday that Ukraine's new leaders wanted relations with Russia on a "new, equal and good-neighborly footing that recognizes and takes into account Ukraine's European choice".

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will travel to Ukraine on Monday, where she is expected to discuss measures to shore up the ailing economy.

Russia said late on Sunday it had recalled to Moscow its ambassador in Ukraine for consultations on the "deteriorating situation" in Kiev.

A day after Yanukovich fled to the Russian-speaking east following dozens of deaths during street protests aimed at toppling him, parliament named new speaker Turchinov as interim head of state. An ally of the ousted leader's long-jailed rival Yulia Tymoshenko, he aims to swear in a government by Tuesday that can provide authority until a presidential election on May 25.

With battle-hardened, pro-Western protesters in control of central Kiev and determined to hold their leaders to account, lawmakers rushed through decisions to cement their power, display their rejection of rampant corruption and bring to book officials who ordered police to fire on Independence Square.

But whoever takes charge as interim prime minister faces a huge challenge to satisfy popular expectations and will find an economy in deep crisis.

Scuffles in Russian-speaking Crimea and some eastern cities between supporters of the new order in Kiev and those anxious to stay close to Moscow revived fears of separatism that a week earlier were focused on the west, where Ukrainian nationalists had disowned Yanukovich and proclaimed self-rule.

President Barack Obama's national security adviser, Susan Rice, was asked on U.S. television about the possibility of Russia sending troops to Ukraine, which President Vladimir Putin had hoped Yanukovich would keep closely allied to Moscow.

"That would be a grave mistake," Rice said. "It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the United States to see a country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate."

Yanukovich's flight into hiding left Putin's Ukraine policy in tatters, on a day he had hoped eyes would be on the grand finale to the Sochi Olympics. The Kremlin leader spoke on Sunday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose foreign minister had brokered a short-lived truce in Kiev on Friday.

They agreed Ukraine's "territorial integrity" must be maintained, Merkel's spokesman said in a statement.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague was asked if Russia might "send in the tanks" to defend its interests among ethnic Russians in the east and on the Crimea peninsula, where Moscow bases its Black Sea Fleet: "It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing," he told the BBC.

Earlier this month, a Kremlin aide had warned that Moscow could intervene.

It is unlikely the United States and its allies in NATO would risk an outright military confrontation with Russia but such echoes of the Cold War underline the high stakes in Ukraine, whose 46 million people and sprawling territory are caught in a geopolitical tug of war.

EUROPEAN OFFERS

EU officials offered financial aid to a new government and to revive a trade deal that Yanukovich spurned under Russian pressure in November, sparking the protests that drove him from office after 82 deaths last week, many from police sniper fire.

In addition to any economic assistance the EU might offer, the U.S. has also promised help. Budgets are tight on both sides of the Atlantic, and international creditors may be wary of Yanukovich's opponents, whose previous spell in government was no economic success, but a desire to avoid instability and back what looks to Western voters like a democratic movement menaced by Russian diktat may loosen purse strings, at least to tide Ukraine over until elections.

In Russia, where Putin had wanted Ukraine as a key part in a union of ex-Soviet states, the finance minister said the next tranche of a $15-billion loan package agreed in December would not be paid, at least before a new government is formed.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to his office, told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry the opposition had "seized power" by force by ignoring an EU-brokered truce that would have left Yanukovich in office for the time being.

But even lawmakers from Yanukovich's own party voted for his removal on Saturday and blamed him and his entourage for the crisis. Business "oligarchs" also distanced themselves from a man long seen as their representative in the presidency.

In a mark of passions dividing Ukrainians along a historic faultline between Russian and Ukrainian cultures, local television in Kerch, in eastern Crimea, showed a crowd hauling down the blue-and-yellow Ukrainian flag in front of the town hall and hoisting the white, blue and red Russian tricolor.

PARLIAMENT ACTS

In a hectic round of voting in parliament, lawmakers rushed in some crowd-pleasing measures against the old administration, conscious that those still occupying Independence Square - or the Maidan - remain deeply suspicious of the political class.

They stripped Yanukovich of his abandoned country home near Kiev, complete with ostrich farm and hot tubs, its brash opulence fuelling demands that he be held to account for stealing taxpayer billions.

Turchinov said a government should be in place by Tuesday.

His ally, Tymoshenko, defeated by Yanukovich in a 2010 presidential election and later jailed for corruption, ruled herself out as interim premier. Freed from a prison hospital on Saturday after more than two years in jail, she may want time to recover and build support before running for the presidency.

As prime minister following the largely peaceful Orange Revolution of 2004-05, which overturned a first presidential victory by Yanukovich, Tymoshenko disappointed many in Ukraine who had hoped for an end to the corruption and failed economic policies that marked the aftermath of Soviet communism.

"In these days the most important thing is to form a functioning government," said Vitaly Klitschko, a former world boxing champion and also a possible presidential contender.

On Independence Square, men were still wandering around with clubs and wearing home-made body armor, helmets and in some cases ski masks and camouflage fatigues.

"We'll stay here to the very end," said one, Bohdan Zakharchenko, 23, from Cherkasy, south of Kiev. "We will be here till there's a new president."

(Additional reporting by Timothy Heritage, Matt Robinson, Pavel Polityuk and Richard Balmforth in Kiev, Alexandra Hudson in Berlin, Andrew Osborn in London, John Irish in Paris and Will Dunham and Ros Krasny in Washington; Writing by Alasta

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kdlebeouf February 24 2014 at 12:25 PM

AlexanderMBates &Andrea Danielle GET OFF THIS BOARD!

You can bet that Putin is plotting and scheming looking for any leverage to influence the election process so that Ukraine will be allied with Russia. I have not been a fan of our president's weak foreign policy (countless "lines in the sand") but comment him for warning Putin. It's about time! Putin has been playing "Rope-A-Dope" with Obama for years.

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Randy February 24 2014 at 9:57 AM

Here is the best way for the Ukraine to move forward in establishing another new government (what is this, the 4th, 5th time?) DO NOT PERMIT ANYONE FROM EITHER RUSSIA, the USA and especially the UNITED NATIONS to assist them - no politicians, no career state department wonks, no international business - period. Leave the Ukrainians alone and let them make their own decisions for the BENEFIT OF THIER CITIZENS and future generations.

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MICHAEL February 24 2014 at 10:10 AM

theres one little problem with your scenario. MONEY. the ukraine is broke and is in debt to russia, who, probived them not too long ago with a 15 billion dollar bail-out. so, you see, russia will not let the ukraine go western. now, the E.U. has offered financial assistance and a trade deal, maybe the ukraine can get out from under russias shadow, but i seriously doubt it. russia will send troups to recover what they believe they have "bought" and the u.s. will need to think about how it will respond to that.

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Randy February 24 2014 at 10:25 AM

What prompted the riots was the denial of the $15 Billion bailout by Russia - the Ukrainians had become dependent upon the largesse of Russia - and when it stopped, they went berserk!

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genemelnyk February 24 2014 at 9:35 AM

I SAY LET UKRAIN BE ITSELF AND NO OUT SIDE INFLUENCE SHOULD INTERFER/LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC OF UKRAINE.

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MICHAEL February 24 2014 at 10:13 AM

that would be very nice if russia will follow your advice.

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kenmac7 February 24 2014 at 9:11 AM

I don't understand the point of a united Ukraine. Why not split the country in half?

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vietnamvet1967 February 24 2014 at 8:59 AM

Was that before or after Putin was laughing so hard he fell on the floor

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kensucharski February 24 2014 at 8:52 AM

The US should be having discussions with the Ukaraine as to how we can help keep their government afloat.
NOT empty threats toward Putin, it solves nothing.
Anything Obama say's is dismissed in the world political arena as a joke anyway.

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Randy February 24 2014 at 9:59 AM

The USA should stay the H_LL away from them - let the Ukrainians make their own decisions. Russia keep their bear paws off as well.

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mbrheljr February 24 2014 at 8:27 AM

Is the "grave mistake" warning to Putin anything like the "red line in the sand" warning for Syria?

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fishhead80 February 24 2014 at 7:26 AM

If the Communists tell you, " If you like your government...You can keep it, period" Don't believe them.

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tdeblaey February 24 2014 at 8:00 AM

Doesn't that work for us, too? :-)

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vhebert941 February 24 2014 at 6:42 AM

Yulia Tymoshenko, she's kinda spooky.

I really question countries governments using fashionistas or Reagans or Evita Perons to run governments. You know, "saving angels"

Fortunately, Reagan was so phony almost everyone could see he was strange! Making deals with Iran to keep our people hostage before the elections, for instance.

That advertising company he paid to try to make up that "communicator great"(brand)stagename or something like that, was bought and sold by the rightwing media, you now, the mainstream, but everyone I knew always wondered, What was he was talking about?

Her golden locks are Very strange, to me, and seemingly telling.

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Brian Hope February 24 2014 at 8:38 AM

So blonds like Thatcher and Merkel have no business being heads of state?

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fishhead80 February 24 2014 at 6:24 AM

Just think Ukrainians it could be worse. You could have Obama running your country!

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Brian Hope February 24 2014 at 8:37 AM

I match your hatred of Obama with my hatred of Dubya - and thousands died unnecessarily because of Dubya's actions.

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fluap08 February 24 2014 at 9:10 AM

A completely irrational statement. GWB is a good and decent man whose administration history will record much more favorably than Obama's corrupt misadministration.

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