Russia accuses Ukraine opposition of power grab, denounces ‘terrorist methods’

Video: Huge crowds waved Russian flags in the city of Sevastopol, Ukraine, at a rally for closer ties with Russia.

Russia questioned the legitimacy of Ukraine’s new interim leadership Monday, charging that it has used a Western-backed peace deal to make a power grab and was suppressing dissent in Russian-speaking regions through “terrorist methods.”

In a sharply worded statement posted on its Web site, the Russian Foreign Ministry said an agreement Friday that curtailed the powers of President Viktor Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, was being violated “with the tacit consent of its external sponsors.” The Feb. 21 accord “is being used only as a cover to promote a scenario of forced change of power in Ukraine,” it said.

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The ministry charged: “A course has been set to use dictatorial and sometime terrorist methods to suppress dissenters in various regions.” It accused unspecified “Western partners” of being driven “not by a concern for the fate of Ukraine but by unilateral geopolitical calculations.”

The ministry said the concerns of Ukrainian lawmakers from Russian-speaking regions must be taken into account.

A day after the agreement was signed by Ukrainian opposition leaders and endorsed by mediators from France, Germany and Poland, the Ukrainian parliament voted Saturday to dismiss Yanukovych from office and free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. Yanukovych fled the capital while insisting that he remains the country’s rightful president and vowing that he would not resign.

The agreement was aimed at ending a three-month political crisis that escalated dramatically last week, claiming more than 80 lives in clashes between Interior Ministry riot police and protesters.

The fast-moving developments have left Russia, preoccupied by the Winter Olympics in Sochi that ended Sunday, struggling to maintain its influence in Ukraine, a former Soviet republic that President Vladi­mir Putin has been trying to pull back more firmly into Moscow’s orbit.

In comments quoted by Russian news agencies, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had harsh words Monday for Ukraine’s new leaders.

“If you consider Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks who are roaming Kiev to be the government,” Medvedev said, “then it will be hard for us to work with that government.” He called the popular upheaval that led to Yanukovych’s ouster an “armed mutiny” and said the recognition of the interim government by some states was an “aberration.”

Russia recalled its ambassador from Kiev on Sunday for consultations in a sign of rejection of its ally’s removal.

Medvedev said the ambassador was pulled out because Russia feared for his safety.

“We do not understand what is going on there,” Medvedev said, according to Reuters news agency. “There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens.”

In the United Arab Emirates, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told the Associated Press that Ukraine’s political upheaval “looks like . . . a real mess,” but he said it was important for Ukraine to avoid breaking up.

“No one wants it to come apart,” Gorbachev said. “I think that today it’s important not to tear it apart.”

Gorbachev, 82, presided over the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which led to the independence of Ukraine and other former Soviet republics.

Interviewed by the AP during a visit to Sharjah to address an international forum, Gorbachev said: “It looks like there is a real mess there and that the leaders of Ukraine proved unable to reach a kind of consensus in the country, in Ukrainian society. . . . There’s a new Ukraine, and it should find its own niche.”

He added: “If the European Union wants to have things its own way, the United States wants to have things their own way, and Russia wants to have things its own way, I think that would be wrong. No one should claim domination over Ukraine.”

Booth reported from Kiev.

 
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