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Russia withdraws ambassador from Kiev as stand-off with Western powers deepens

The US has warned Russia against sending troops into Kiev, with National Security Adviser Susan Rice saying such a move would be a “grave mistake”.

People paint on the KGB officers monument in Kiev
People paint on the KGB officers monument in Kiev
Image: Andrew Lubimov/AP/Press Association Image

WESTERN POWERS AND Russia are squaring off over crisis-hit Ukraine, as a top EU envoy prepares to fly to Kiev today to buttress its new leaders’ tilt away from Moscow.

Russia’s fury at the breakneck pace of change in the ex-Soviet nation that saw president Viktor Yanukovych ousted following a week of carnage was on full display with Moscow’s recall of its Kiev ambassador and freeze of its €11 billion Ukrainian bailout loan.

Both the United States and Britain warned Russian President Vladimir Putin not to even consider using force to regain sway over a neighbour he views as vital to his efforts to build an economic — and possibly even military — counterweight to the West.

Resurgent opposition leaders in parliament meanwhile are preparing to cobble together a new cabinet after dismantling the last vestiges of a Yanukovych regime that many in the nation of 46 million viewed as both inept and corrupt.

The country’s new prosectors opened criminal probes into top security officials — most of them in hiding since Saturday — they held responsible for ordering police to use snipers against protesters in central Kiev in carnage that killed nearly 100 and left the nation in profound shock.

The heart of Kiev was a site of deep mourning late last night as thousands streamed in clutching candles and flowers to pay their respects to those who fell in defence of Ukraine’s aspirations to be rejoined with the West.

Some people shook their heads in disbelief while inspecting lamp posts studded with bullet holes. Others joined priest in requiems as songs of mourning rose over the ancient city.

imageFlowers cover one of the barricades heading to Independence Square [Efrem Lukatsky/AP/Press Association Images]

Russia’s vocal displeasure at the changes hitting its neighbour has translated into Western anxiety about Putin actually ordering tanks into Ukraine in an echo of what the Soviets did in former Czechoslovakia and Hungary during the Cold War.

US National Security Adviser Susan Rice said bluntly that sending troops to restore a Kremlin-friendly leadership in Kiev “would be a grave mistake”.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague also stressed that “any external duress on Ukraine any more than we’ve seen in recent weeks… it really would not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing.”

But Hague, when asked about the possibility of Putin ordering tanks into Ukraine, said: “We don’t know, of course, what Russia’s next reaction will be.”

Russia’s anxiety was underscored late yesterday when the foreign ministry recalled ambassador Mikhail Zurabov “due to the escalation of the situation in Ukraine”.

imageProtesters pose with a child as they guard an official building in central Kiev [Darko Bandic/AP/Press Association Images]

The foreign ministry also said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had flatly told US Secretary of State John Kerry that Russia strongly condemned “the seizure of power” by the opposition in Kiev.

Yet the diplomatic sparring is likely only to intensify today with the arrival in Kiev of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton — a prime Russian target of charges that the West was meddling in Ukraine’s internal affairs.

Ashton’s office said the two-day visit would focus on finding “a lasting solution to the political crisis and measures to stabilise the economic situation.”

- © AFP, 2014

Read: New Ukraine leader warns that the country’s economy is in a “catastrophic” state

PICS: Protesters have a snoop around ousted president’s stately home

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