Ukraine disbands Viktor Yanukovych's feared riot police

Written by AFP | Kiev | Updated: Feb 26 2014, 20:52pm hrs
Ukraine's new pro-Western leaders today disbanded the country's feared riot police as they sought to win confidence from the splintered and economically ravaged nation in their efforts to forge a unity government.

The interim authorities are grappling the with the dual threats of separatism and a looming debt default as they try to piece the ex-Soviet nation back together following the weekend ouster of pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych.

Protests that started in November over Yanukovych's decision to ditch an historic EU trade deal in favour of closer ties with old master Russia culminated in a week of Kiev carnage that claimed nearly 100 lives.

Yanukovych and his tight clique of security chiefs and administration insiders are widely believed to have since gone into hiding in the Russian-speaking southern peninsula of Crimea that is now threatening to secede from Ukraine.

The interim leaders' headaches are compounded by Moscow's decision to freeze payments on a massive bailout package that Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to Yanukovych as his reward for rejecting closer EU ties.

The Ukrainian government faces foreign debt payments of USD 13 billion this year and has less than USD 18 billion in its fast depleting coffers - a grim equation that has forced it to seek as much as USD 35 billion from Western states.

Both the United States and Britain have publically backed the idea of putting together an economic rescue for Ukraine that would be overseen by the International Monetary Fund.

US Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Secretary William Hague also rejected Russia's claim yesterday that Ukraine was being forced to make a historic choice between the East and West.

"This is not a zero-sum game, it is not a West versus East," said Kerry after hosting Hague in Washington.

But EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton wrapped up a two-day visit to Kiev yesterday by mentioning only a "short term" economic solution for Ukraine while saying nothing about extending the billions of dollars in credit requested by interim leader Oleksandr Turchynov.

Little appears to unite the vast nation of 46 million - splintered between the Ukranian-speaking west where pro-European sentiment runs high and a heavily Russified southeast - more than a shared adversion for the Berkut riot police.

The elite units carried shields and Kalashnikov rifles as they cracked down on protesters in Kiev and brutally beat those detained - forcing one man to strip naked in the freezing cold and parade in front of a police camera in one incident that became infamous through the Internet.

But acting interior minister Arsen Avakov announced on his Facebook account that he was dissolving the feared unit effective immediately.