Ukraine’s opposition yesterday warned that the military might move against anti-government demonstrators, ahead of talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry over the country’s worst crisis since independence.
The warning came hours after the army weighed in on the crisis for the first time, calling on Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to act urgently to end the turmoil.
Piling on the pressure, Moscow warned that the 63-year-leader would lose power if he failed to “quash the rebellion,” while Ukraine’s state security service announced a criminal investigation into what it said was an opposition attempt to seize power.
As fears grew that authorities may be preparing to crush the two-month protest movement, Kerry said the US and the EU “stand with the people of Ukraine.”
“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” Kerry told political, diplomatic and military leaders at a Munich conference.
“The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight,” he said.
Opposition supporters are refusing to leave their protest camp on Kiev’s Independence Square despite a string of concessions from the authorities, including the resignation of prime minister Mykola Azarov.
Several people were shot dead in a recent outbreak of violence in the capital, Kiev.
Opposition leaders began meeting top Western officials in Munich on Friday to try to secure support from Brussels and Washington.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the opposition party Batkivshchyna told Germany’s president and foreign minister and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton it was “very likely” the military would use force against the protesters.
His warning came after the defense ministry, which had previously said it would not interfere, said the seizure of public buildings was unacceptable and warned that “further escalation of the confrontation threatens the country’s territorial integrity.”
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he was “very concerned by attempts to involve the military in the crisis.”
Yanukovych on Friday scrapped controversial anti-protest laws that had radicalized the protest movement and signed an amnesty bill for jailed opposition activists, but this will only take effect if protesters vacate the public buildings they have occupied within 15 days.
Germany urged Yanukovych, who has been on sick leave since Thursday, to find a political solution to avoid further confrontation.
“If the fuse on the powder keg is already lit then it is highly dangerous to play for time,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in Munich.
“That’s why we have to tell President Yanukovych and his people to quickly and fully meet the commitments he has made to the opposition,” he said.