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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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1000|Char. 1000  Char.
socraticknight February 24 2014 at 1:05 AM

I spoke to a Ukrainian man late last year. he was a nice fellow. we talked about vodka. it should only be consumed straight, just like how I like to drink tequila (only silver). he liked speaking about his homeland, and how his people are different from russians.

he was surprised to know that a genealogical test proves I am mostly of asian and russian (or even ukranian) descent. there is little spanish in my bloodline, other than my middle and last name. looks like granny must have had a fling with an American sailor of russian descent during world war two; which is why mom is white-skinned and her siblings are brown. that means I may not only be the "maverick hispanic", but a "rowdy russian" republican. lol no wonder I took up chess in elementary school. later, I was beating adults until I got bored and stopped playing.

anyway, hopefully Ukraine will have full independence soon.

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1 reply
Richard socraticknight February 24 2014 at 4:39 AM

You have an interesting genology. However, Ukraine achieved independence in 1991 from the Soviet Union. and has operated as a democratic nation since then.

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socraticknight February 24 2014 at 1:31 AM

the potus is afraid of russia, because he is paranoid that snowden's might have secret info about the prez true foreign birth/academic/health records; which would thrust yet another democrat into impeachment hearings.

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2 replies
Richard socraticknight February 24 2014 at 4:33 AM

Nice troll. Now go back under your rock.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
dbrianpritchett socraticknight February 24 2014 at 6:17 AM

Not to get into any birther discussions but why are Obama's transcripts, courses of study not only sealed but taken from their original locations by the Secret Service and stored in a "more" secure place as under guarded lock and key?

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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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1 reply
tdeblaey fishhead80 February 24 2014 at 8:00 AM

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

Flag Reply +3 rate up
mark and sheri February 23 2014 at 11:42 PM

It was reported the POTUS sent a stern warning to Russia and others about what they should do/shouldn't do in reference to the Ukraine.

Putin sent him a Thank You card, stating he hasn't laughed so hard since the POTUS talked about "red sand" in Syria.

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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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angelo February 23 2014 at 11:04 PM

Russia will not let go of her influence of the Ukraine without a fight.

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japunola February 23 2014 at 11:00 PM

We better cross our fingers because Putin has always wanted to bring the Ukraine Republic back into the Russian sphere and I feel he will become involved the minute he is back in Moscow. Russia
held the Ukraine in bondage for most of the last century and welcomed the Germans when they
marched in enroute to Moscow. Stalin killed Ukrainians by the millions to keep them under control, and Putin is an old style Communist who wants a return to the old days. Besides, he has no respect at all for Obama and anything Obama wants to do will be received with deaf ears. Pray for the brave people of the Ukraine, may God be with them in this crisis.

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1 reply
dawnmuse79 japunola February 24 2014 at 1:10 AM

Russia kept Ukraine in BONDAGE for most of the last century? Really? Try, Russia kept it's boot on Ukraine's neck for over 300 years!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
oneman689 February 23 2014 at 10:51 PM

"Obama issues stern warning to Putin"

Uh huh...I am sure this KGB strongman is intimidated by our President's remarks... Ha ha.

Flag Reply +8 rate up
1 reply
angelo oneman689 February 23 2014 at 11:00 PM

Now if that "stern warning" were backed up with an armed drone, I wouldn't be joining you in laughter.

Flag Reply +2 rate up
llblckr February 23 2014 at 10:44 PM

Good grief! Not another Obama "line in the sand."

Flag Reply +5 rate up
dsnowbird21 February 23 2014 at 10:04 PM

Faith & Hope prevails and my prayers for peace & harmony in your country

Flag Reply +5 rate up
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