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Crimea crisis, economic turmoil greet Ukraine’s new govt

© Photo: AFP. (Pro-Russia demonstrators in the Crimean capital, Simferopol)

Video by Douglas HERBERT

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-02-28

The honeymoon was short and sweet for Ukraine’s new interim government. Just hours after they were appointed by the country’s parliament on Thursday, gunmen took over the parliament building in Crimea and hoisted a Russian flag.

Since then, another group of armed men seized the airport in Crimea’s regional capital Simferopol on Friday and are now patrolling its grounds.

The two incidents are signs of the deep divisions in Ukraine that Viktor Yanukovich’s ousting has exposed – between Kiev and the pro-EU west, on the one hand, and the largely Russian-speaking south and east, the ex-president’s main base of support, on the other.

Keeping the country together is likely to be the first and most difficult task the new government, headed by Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk, will need to address.

Crimea to vote on future

There are mounting fears that the autonomous Crimea region, where Ukraine’s new government is strongly opposed by many, could seek to separate from the rest of the country.

Lawmakers in Crimea, allowed into the parliament building in the regional capital Simferopol by the occupying gunmen, voted on Thursday to stage a referendum on May 25 that would grant Crimea greater independence from Kiev.

The referendum proposes granting Crimea "national sovereignty within Ukraine on the basis of existing treaties and agreements".

Lawmakers, who were later escorted out by the gunmen, also agreed to disband the region's government and hand its powers to the heavily pro-Russian parliament.

The previous day, thousands of pro-Russia demonstrators turned out in front of parliament to demand independence.

“They are absolutely horrified at the turn of events - they see the powers in Kiev now as being ‘radical nationalists’ that have anything but their interests at heart,” said FRANCE 24’s Douglas Herbert, reporting from Simferopol.

“They want nothing to do with Ukraine in many cases, they feel they will be too marginalised and too sidelined by the authorities in Kiev who they absolutely mistrust.”

In Kiev, the view that Russia is trying to destabilise the situation in Crimea is “very widely held,” FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg reported on Thursday.

“Ukrainians here are saying that they need to get a message to the people in Crimea that the new government is not a far-right, extremist, government, and that they shouldn’t believe the Russian propaganda that [in Kiev] we're all crazy nationalists,” he said.

“Nonetheless, Ukrainians seem less worried about the crisis in Crimea than some of the international media seems to be,” he added.

Ukraine facing bankruptcy

The separatist threat is just one of the challenges facing the new government. They must also tackle an economy on the verge of collapse.

Yanukovich's overthrow will certainly cost Kiev a $15 billion Russian bailout, offered to the former president as a prize by Moscow for spurning the EU trade pact that sparked the protests against his rule.

Prime Minister Yatseniuk told parliament Thursday that Yanukovich had driven the country to the brink of collapse, claiming that $70 billion had disappeared into offshore accounts.

"The state treasury has been robbed and is empty," he said.

Ukraine’s finance ministry, has said it needs $35 billion in funding to survive this year and next.

The International Monetary Fund announced Thursday it was sending a “fact-finding team” to Kiev after Ukraine appealed to the body for financial assistance.

“This will enable the IMF to make its usual technical, independent assessment of the economic situation in Ukraine and, at the same time, begin to discuss with the authorities the policy reforms that could form the basis of a Fund-supported program,” said IMF head Christine Lagarde.

Doomed

While Yatseniuk, a former banker economy minister, has the experience to address Ukraine’s economic problems, the new government has no illusions about the size of the task it faces.

Yatseniuk described the task of leading the post-Yanukovich government as "political suicide" earlier this week.

Oleksander Turchinov, acting president since Yanukovich was toppled, was similarly ominous.

“This is a government which is doomed to be able to work only for 3-4 months ... because they will have to take unpopular decisions”, he said Wednesday.

“They will be criticised. They’ll have mud smeared on them. But they’ll have to fulfil their duty and be burned for the sake of Ukraine.”

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-02-27

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