Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian gunmen seize Crimean seat of power

Written by AFP | Simferopol | Updated: Feb 27 2014, 23:30pm hrs
Dozens of pro-Russian gunmen in combat fatigues seized parliament and government buildings on Ukraine's volatile Crimea peninsula today as lawmakers in Kiev prepared to approve a pro-Western cabinet for the divided ex-Soviet state.

The dawn raid came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered snap combat readiness drills near the Ukrainian border, which raised fears of the Kremlin using its military muscle to sway the outcome of a three-month crisis that has pitted Moscow against against the West in a Cold War-style confrontation over the future of the strategic nation of 46 million.

The United States had late yesterday promised to secure a USD 1 billion loan guarantee that may be backed by an additional USD 1.5 billion from the European Union aimed at saving Ukraine's teetering economy from a devastating debt default as early as next week.

The country's new rulers have said they need USD 35 billion for the economically distressed country.

Ukraine's bloodiest crisis since independence in 1991 erupted in November when Viktor Yanukovych -- deposed as president last weekend -- made the shock decision to ditch an historic EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with old master Russia, a move that won him a promise of USD 15 billion from Moscow.

But Ukraine appeared to take a decisive swing back toward the European Union by ousting Yanukovych's entire pro-Russian team and replacing them with a new brand of younger pro-Western politicians who will steer the nation torn between a Russified east and pro-European west -- until snap presidential polls are held on May 25.

A new team headed by 39-year-old caretaker prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk -- a close ally of the freed opposition icon Yulia Tymoshenko -- was unveiled to an emotional crowd of 25,000 late yesterday on the same barricade-riven central Kiev square that had been the epicentre of the revolt against Yanukovych's pro-Russian rule.

Lawmakers in Ukraine's Verkhovna Rada single-chamber parliament were due later today to overwhelmingly confirm the new cabinet, after Yanukovych supporters abandoned his Regions Party and joined the pro-EU opposition.

The Russian flag flew today over both the the Crimean parliament and government buildings in the regional capital of Simferopol.