WASHINGTON — The United States warned Russia on Wednesday against military intervention in Ukraine and said that any incursion could lead to a broad international backlash.
Secretary of State John Kerry also pledged $1 billion in emergency U.S. loan guarantees to help Ukraine’s new, temporary government, announced Wednesday in Kiev, as it tries to establish itself after the ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych last weekend.
“I don’t think there should be any doubt whatsoever that any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge — a grave — mistake,” Kerry said.
Earlier Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered large-scale military exercises in western Russia, Ukraine’s doorstep, intending to demonstrate Russia’s military preparedness at a time of heightened tensions with Europe and the United States over Ukraine.
The orders came as thousands of ethnic Russians gathered outside the regional parliament in the southern Ukraine city of Simferopol, capital of the Crimea region, to protest the political upheaval in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital. Crimea was a part of Russian territory until the Soviet Union ceded it to the Soviet Socialist Republic of Ukraine in 1954, and Russians there have already called for the Kremlin’s intervention to protect the region and its population from Ukraine’s new leadership.
“Crimea is Russian!” protesters screamed as brawls erupted with rival demonstrations by Crimea’s ethnic Tatars, who support the new interim authorities.
Determined to block the local legislature from heeding calls from pro-Russia activists for more autonomy or even secession from Ukraine, 5,000 Crimean Tatars — the region’s indigenous Turkic, Muslim population — traded taunts and occasional blows with protesters waving Russian flags.
The Obama administration is trying to avoid a confrontation with Russia over the fate of the former Soviet republic, whose Russian-speaking eastern and southern areas identify strongly with Moscow, while also firmly defending the former opposition figures now taking the helm of government.
In Kiev, the lawmakers temporarily controlling Ukraine announced an interim government Wednesday night to be led by Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a veteran public official who has served as speaker of Parliament, foreign minister, economics minister and acting head of the central bank.
Yatsenyuk was introduced before a crowd of tens of thousands in Independence Square, the epicenter of the three-month civic uprising that ousted Yanukovych. The public presentation of Yatsenyuk, who will serve as acting prime minister, and more than 20 other proposed Cabinet members, was an effort by establishment politicians to win the backing of the street protesters, whose persistence in the face of the deaths of more than 80 people last week in clashes with the police ultimately dislodged Yanukovych from power.
As the names of the proposed ministers were read from the stage, it became clear just how completely the ordinary people on the street had seized control of the direction of Ukraine. Desperate for the crowd’s legitimacy, officials felt compelled to present the slate on stage in the square before putting it up for a vote by Parliament on Thursday.
“It is a real government of popular trust,” said Igor Popov, head of Kiev’s Politika Analytical Center. “There is not a single name on the list associated in any way with Yanukovych’s regime.”
On the whole, the makeup of the interim government suggested that Ukraine would move swiftly to improve ties with the West, potentially reviving the sweeping political and trade agreements with the European Union that Yanukovych scuttled in November, setting off protests in Kiev and other cities.
Yatsenyuk, the incoming acting prime minister, is an ally of Yanukovych’s archrival, the former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko was released from a prison hospital this week and is expected to run for president in May, although she has received only a lukewarm reception in recent days. Many Ukrainians say they view her as too connected to the country’s existing political system, which has been hobbled by corruption and mismanagement for years.
Speaking with reporters in Washington, Kerry said that those who threw off the Yanukovych “kleptocracy” now badly need international help. He urged Ukraine to stick to a fast calendar for elections, while undertaking difficult fiscal reforms and anti-corruption measures that would allow wider investment by the International Monetary Fund.
The $1 billion U.S. loan guarantees would allow quick loans from the IMF or other international financial institutions. They would be followed by a much larger international aid package that is expected to include European and U.S. contributions and international loans.
“There’s got to be some reality here,” Kerry said. “I don’t think it’s enough for us to be heralding the advent of democracy and to applaud the courage and conviction of the people who brought about this transition and then just not do anything. I think that’s unconscionable.”
The Washington Post, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times