By Lesley Wroughton and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON Feb 22 The United States said on
Saturday the dramatic ouster of Ukraine's President Viktor
Yanukovich and the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko
could move the country away from violence toward a political
The White House said Washington was keen to see the country
build a new government and hold early elections.
Ukraine's Rada parliament voted to oust Yanukovich, who
abandoned his Kiev office to protesters and denounced what he
described as a coup after a week of fighting in the streets.
The White House issued a statement welcoming the release of
Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, and pledging to work with
Russia, European allies and international organizations to
support the formation of a government of national unity.
On Friday, a senior State Department official had warned
that a peace deal between Yanukovich and opposition figures had
been fragile. That deal collapsed, and the White House said
Saturday's developments in Kiev appeared positive.
"We have consistently advocated a de-escalation of violence,
constitutional change, a coalition government, and early
elections, and today's developments could move us closer to that
goal," the White House said.
"The United States deeply values our long-standing ties with
Ukraine and will support them as they pursue a path of democracy
and economic development," the statement said.
The State Department said it would send its No. 2 official
Bill Burns to Kiev next week.
It was not immediately clear who would fill the vacuum left
by Yanukovich, who fled to eastern Ukraine, and with Tymoshenko
appearing in public urging the opposition to keep up the
protests it was also unclear whether the opposition would remain
Tymoshenko and the leader of one of the opposition groups,
Vitaly Klitschko, are likely to emerge as top candidates to lead
the country, said Taras Kuzio, a Johns Hopkins University
scholar who is an expert on Ukraine politics.
The crisis reflects the conflict between those who want
Ukraine to remain aligned with Moscow and Russian President
Vladimir Putin, and those seeking closer integration with
SPHERES OF INFLUENCE
Putin sees any move to align Ukraine closer with Western
Europe as undermining his efforts to build a Eurasian sphere of
influence, but Europeans do not see the issue in such stark
geopolitical terms, said former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine
"Russia cares more about losing Ukraine than Europe cares
about gaining it," he said.
Many in Washington expect Putin to focus more closely on the
issue after Sunday's closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, to
which he has devoted much time and resources.
Some analysts in the United States cited Tymoshenko's close
ties to Moscow as an avenue for Putin to build on as the
post-Yanukovich transition unfolds.
Russia and the United States on Saturday appeared to remain
at odds over Washington's backing for the opposition groups.
In a phone call, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that the agreement had been
"sharply degraded" by the opposition's inability or
unwillingness respect it, the Russian Foreign Ministry said.
Lavrov reminded Kerry that Putin had urged U.S. President
Barack Obama during an earlier call to "use every opportunity to
stop the illegal actions of radicals and return the situation to
constitutional channels," it said in a statement.
The United States had repeatedly urged measures to stabilize
Ukraine's economy but has made it clear that any financial
assistance will need to go through the International Monetary
U.S. SUPPORTS IMF HELP
On Friday, a senior State Department official said
Washington had assured Ukraine's leaders they can count on
"strong support" from the United States in talks with the IMF.
Ukraine's relationship with the IMF has long been a
difficult one. Successive governments have failed to fully
implement IMF-backed programs, which have required politically
A senior State Department official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, said going through the IMF was a more sustainable way
to stabilize the Ukrainian economy than any other option,
suggesting it should not rely on Moscow's handouts.
IMF insiders, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the
international lender would be cautious about making a deal with
an interim Ukrainian government given the country's history of
weak economic reforms.
The insiders said the IMF's experience in Greece, where
reforms have been bankrolled by European and IMF money and made
difficult by a shaky coalition, would make the Fund wary of
lending to a Ukraine government that is not politically
committed to tough economic changes.
Still, as the IMF's largest and most influential member
country, the United States could push for easier conditions
under an IMF loan program.
An IMF program would unlock more funding and guarantees from
other international institutions like the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development, a key lender in the region, and
the World Bank.