Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 27 January 2015

Ukraine uprising: Russia's Vladimir Putin promises to work with Merkel and keep crisis-hit country ‘intact’

People turn on mobile phones and flash lights as a body of an anti-government protester killed in clashes with police is brought to Independence Square in Kiev (AP)
People turn on mobile phones and flash lights as a body of an anti-government protester killed in clashes with police is brought to Independence Square in Kiev (AP)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko arrives to address anti-government demonstrators who remain in Independence square February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: Anti-government protestors guard the streets next to the Presidential offices on February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: Anti-government demonstrators remain in Independence square February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: Anti - government protestors guard the streets next to the Presidential offices on February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: The helmets of an anti-government demonstrator killed in clashes with police is layed on display in Independence square February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 21: A man presses against the side of a van carrying the body of Ustim Holodnyuk, 19, who was killed in fighting between anti-government protesters and police, after a funeral procession through Independence Square on February 21, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. After a week that saw new levels of violence, with dozens killed, it is thought that the opposition and government representatives reached an agreement intended to resolve the crisis, after all-night talks in Ukraine mediated by EU foreign ministers. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 21: People gather in Independence square as coffins of anti-government demonstrator killed in yesterdays clashes with police arrive in the square on February 21, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych is thought to have reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis, after all-night talks in Ukraine mediated by EU foreign ministers. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 21: Anti-government protesters man the front line barricades following yesterdays clashes with police in Independence square, on February 21, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine's president Viktor Yanukovych is thought to have reached a deal with the opposition to end the crisis, after all-night talks in Ukraine mediated by EU foreign ministers. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images) ***BESTPIX***
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: Anti-government protestors guard the streets next to the Presidential offices on February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
KIEV, UKRAINE - FEBRUARY 22: A priest holds the helmet of an anti-government demonstrator killed in clashes with police before it is layed on display in Independence square February 22, 2014 in Kiev, Ukraine. The offices of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych have been left unguarded, with the protesters in full control of the streets surrounding the government district. The opposition have called for elections to take place on May 25 and demanded that President Yanukovych stand down immediately. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko addresses the crowd in central Kiev (AP)

Vladimir Putin has agreed that the “territorial integrity” of Ukraine must be maintained, amid concerns that Russia could send in the military to defend its interests in the east of the crisis-hit country.

Mr Putin has previously been one of the missing Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s staunchest allies, but he pledged in a phone call with Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel that the country must be allowed to appoint a new, functional government.

“They underscored their joint interest in a stable Ukraine - both in economic and political terms,” said a spokesperson for Ms Merkel, who added that the two leaders had agreed to keep in close contact in the coming days.

A spokesperson for the Kremlin confirmed that the pair had spoken, and their conversation came as Britain’s William Hague warned Russia against any kind of “intervention” that might further destabilise the country.

When asked if he was worried that Russia might “send in the tanks” to support Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary said he advised against what he called any kind of “external duress”.

“It would really not be in the interests of Russia to do any such thing. We have to keep up the communication with Russia as we are doing ... so that the people of Ukraine can choose their own way forward. There are many dangers and uncertainties.”

His comments were echoed by US president Barack Obama’s national security advisor, Susan Rice, who said it would be a “grave mistake” for Russia to send in military forces.

She told NBC: “It's not in the interests of Ukraine or of Russia or of Europe or the US to see a country split. It's in nobody's interest to see violence return and the situation escalate.”

“There is not an inherent contradiction ... between a Ukraine that has longstanding historic and cultural ties to Russia and a modern Ukraine that wants to integrate more closely with Europe. This need not be mutually exclusive,” Ms Rice said.

 Earlier, Ukraine’s health ministry said the official death toll from clashes since 18 February came to 88, in a conflict that stems from President Yanukovych’s decision to spurn a trade deal with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.

Russian president Vladimir Putin
Russian president Vladimir Putin

Yesterday the country’s parliament voted to remove Mr Yanukovych from power by a legally-binding constitutional majority, and today they appointed the speaker, Oleksander Turchinov, interim president.

He has told MPs they have until Tuesday to form a national unity government, appointing new cabinet members and a prime minister.

Despite the developments of the past few days, Mr Yanukovych refuses to resign and still claims he is in power. His whereabouts remain unknown, with border control officials saying they stopped a flight he was on from leaving the country at Donetsk airport.

Presidential elections have been scheduled for 25 May, and speaking to the BBC earlier the opposition politician and former heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko suggested he could be in the running.

“I want to make Ukraine a modern European country,” he said. “If I can do that through the president's position, I will do my best.”

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