About one million civil servants will be screened in Ukraine to root out corrupt practices from the past, PM Arseniy Yatseniuk has announced.
Ukraine’s parliament passed the lustration law on September 16, allowing the removal of government officials from their posts.
All those who worked under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych and also former senior Communist and KGB members will be affected.
Ukraine has had months of unrest since Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in February 2014.
Government troops had been fighting pro-Russia separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions for months, until a truce was signed on September 5.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of sending its troops and heavy weaponry to help the rebels – a claim denied by the Kremlin.
“About one million civil servants of different kinds will come under this law, including the whole cabinet of ministers, the interior ministry, the intelligence services, the prosecutor’s office,” Arseniy Yatseniuk said in a televised cabinet meeting.
Ukraine’s parliament passed the lustration law on September 16, allowing the removal of government officials from their posts (photo Reuters)
Correspondents say the issues of vetting and corruption are emotional subjects for many in Ukraine, who want to cleanse the government of Viktor Yanukovych’s influence.
The law on “lustration” – the cleansing of the ranks of power – was approved under huge pressure from activists, who took part in mass protests against Viktor Yanukovych.
The bill was finally passed after several failed attempts when speaker Okexandr Turchynov warned lawmakers he would not allow them to leave parliament without a successful result.
Outside the building, Vitaly Zhuravsky, who belongs to a party described as pro-Russian, was thrown by angry crowds into a rubbish bin.
The bill was approved on the same day as a new law granting self-rule to parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.
It was part of the truce agreed between separatists and the Ukrainian government, although rebel leaders say they will continue to demand independence, and some Ukrainian lawmakers have described the move as “capitulation”.
At least 3,000 people have been killed in the conflict and more than 310,000 internally displaced in Ukraine, the UN says.
Also on September 16, the Ukrainian and European parliaments voted to ratify a major EU-Ukraine association agreement that aims to bring the ex-Soviet republic closer to the EU.
Ukraine’s PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called on Russia to control its border to stop “terrorists” from crossing into his territory.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk said Kiev could solve the crisis quickly if Moscow stopped meddling in the situation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that Kiev’s policies were pushing Ukraine into “fratricidal war”.
Ukraine’s PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has called on Russia to control its border to stop terrorists from crossing into his territory
Earlier this week rebels and government forces were embroiled in some of the worst fighting of the crisis so far.
The separatists say they lost up to 100 fighters as they tried to seize Donetsk airport from pro-Kiev forces.
Ukraine’s interior ministry says the military is now in full control of the airport, although gunfire was reported in Donetsk itself on Wednesday.
Speaking on a visit to Germany, Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the situation in the east was deteriorating and Russia’s involvement was causing huge difficulties.
“A number of trucks full of live ammunition, full of Russian-trained guerrillas crossed the Russian border into Ukraine,” he said.
“We ask Russia and Putin to block the border to Ukraine. If Russia is out of this game we can handle this situation in a week.”
Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said it had re-established contact with a monitoring team it reported lost in eastern Ukraine on Tuesday, but it continued to refer to the group as “detained” and their fate is unclear.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called newly elected President Petro Poroshenko to congratulate him on receiving a “strong mandate” to govern.
Moscow had criticized the election because many in the east were unable to vote as a result of the unrest.
But analysts say the election has bolstered the confidence of Ukrainian officials in their dealings with Moscow.
On Tuesday, Arseniy Yatsenyuk denied Moscow’s long-standing claim that Ukraine owed billions of dollars in unpaid gas revenues.
The prime minister said that in fact Russia’s state-owed Gazprom owed Ukraine $1 billion in compensation for natural gas seized in the annexation of Crimea.
Gazprom’s chief executive Alexei Miller said on Wednesday that Ukraine had used $1.7 billion worth of gas in May alone, and would owe $5.2 billion by June 7.
In a statement to the International Monetary Fund, US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has urged other countries to contribute more to the economic rescue of Ukraine.
Jacob Lew told the IMF that Ukraine’s “sizeable financing needs” meant other nations must add to its $1 billion (720 million euros) loan guarantee.
The appeal came as Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk offered to devolve more powers to eastern regions.
Pro-Russian separatists there are defying the government.
Meanwhile, Washington on Friday announced a third round of sanctions against individuals it has linked to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The US Treasury said it had frozen the US-based assets of one former Ukrainian official, a Crimea-based energy firm and six Crimean leaders, including the chairman of the Crimea electoral commission and the mayor of Sevastopol.
Jacob Lew says the US is “bolstering the IMF program through a complementary aid package, which includes a $1 billion loan guarantee and additional technical assistance,” in a statement to the IMF.
Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew has urged other countries to contribute more to the economic rescue of Ukraine
“It is critical that the international community – multilateral development banks and bilaterals – take immediate steps to also support the IMF program by providing financing support, given the sizeable financing needs,” he adds.
The IMF announced a rescue package worth as much as $18 billion last month in a bid to aid Ukraine’s economy, and this has been bolstered to $27 billion with contributions from Europe and the US.
In exchange, the IMF has demanded from Ukraine strict government spending cuts and tax increases.
Ukraine is being squeezed by Russia’s decision this month to stop providing Ukraine with subsidized natural gas.
That discount had been agreed between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine’s then President Viktor Yanukovych, in which Russia also said it would buy $15 billion-worth of Ukrainian government bonds.
The IMF is also asking Ukraine to crack down on corruption and end central bank support for the Ukrainian currency.
Ukraine’s new government has said it needs $35 billion to pay its bills over the next two years.
Ukraine has not paid off its debt to Russian gas supplier Gazprom despite the passing earlier this week of a deadline for the nation to start reducing its debt. Gazprom says Ukraine owes it $2.2 billion.
European Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger told Austria’s ORF radio he was working on a plan to help Ukraine pay its gas bills to ensure its debts do not rise.
On Friday, President Vladimir Putin moved to assure the EU it would not cut off gas supplies. Brussels said it would stand with the new authorities in Kiev if the Kremlin carries out a threat to turn off the tap to Ukraine.
“I want to say again: We do not intend and do not plan to shut off the gas for Ukraine,” Vladimir Putin said in televised comments at a meeting of his advisory Security Council, the Reuters news agency reported.
Russia has turned off the gas tap to Ukraine before, in 2006 and 2009. As the 2009 row escalated, gas supplies to Europe through Ukraine were suspended for two weeks.
But Russia may be reticent about doing it again as it is dependent on revenue from EU customers.
Talks between Russia, Ukraine, the US and the EU – the first four-way discussions since the crisis began – are scheduled to take place on April 17 in Geneva.
Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk has offered to devolve more powers to eastern regions, where pro-Russian separatists are defying the government.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk is holding talks with regional leaders in Donetsk, where activists demanding self-rule are holding a big government building.
It is not clear if the prime minister’s offer will satisfy the separatists.
The threat of Russia cutting gas deliveries has now prompted Ukraine to seek gas from French and German firms.
The EU says it can pump gas back to Ukraine with reverse-flow pipeline technology. Usually the Russian gas flows to Europe via Ukraine.
In Kiev, Ukraine’s Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said it would seek the gas “on the conditions offered by European gas companies”, which he named as Germany’s RWE and “a French gas company”.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk is holding talks with regional leaders in Donetsk, where activists demanding self-rule are holding a big government building (photo CNN)
On Thursday, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said in a letter to 18 European countries that gas supplies to Ukraine could be cut if Kiev did not pay off its debts, and warned this could affect gas deliveries to Europe.
In 2009, a Russian gas dispute with Ukraine led to gas shortages in several EU countries.
Gazprom says Ukraine owes it $2.2 billion (1.4 billion euros) and recently doubled the price it must pay.
The US has accused Russia of using energy “as a tool of coercion” over Ukraine, and says it is working to help Ukraine find gas and financing.
In Donetsk, Arseniy Yatsenyuk urged regional leaders to tell locals that the Kiev government would ensure security and economic progress in the east, Interfax news agency reports.
“In the framework of the changed constitution, we will be able to satisfy specific requests of every single region,” he pledged.
But Kiev has rejected Russian pressure to turn Ukraine into a loose federation, fearing that more regions could break away and join Russia.
The separatist protest follows Russia’s annexation of Crimea last month – described as the biggest political confrontation in Europe since the end of the Cold War.
Near Donetsk on Friday seven miners died in a gas explosion, apparently unrelated to the current tensions.
The mainly Russian-speaking region is dominated by Soviet-era coal-mining and heavy industry.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk pledged that the Russian language would keep its official status in the region, in parallel with Ukrainian.
Language is a highly sensitive issue in eastern Ukraine, where ties with Russia are strong.
The billionaire industrialist Rinat Akhmetov – reckoned to be Ukraine’s richest man – is participating in the talks.
NATO says up to 40,000 Russian troops are massed near Ukraine’s eastern border.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for legal guarantees of Ukraine’s neutrality, reminding NATO that it should not try to draw Ukraine into the alliance.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk is also expected to travel to another eastern city, Dnipropetrovsk, which has also seen protests.
Activists in Ukraine’s mostly Russian-speaking east have also been occupying a state security building in the city of Luhansk, with gunmen armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles among them.
Ukrainian officials are trying to negotiate a deal whereby the protesters would vacate the buildings in return for protection from prosecution.
The interim government accuses Russia of orchestrating the unrest, as a provocation similar to the anti-Kiev protests which gripped Crimea. Russia denies the claim.
Talks are due to take place in Geneva next week between Russia, Ukraine, US and the EU – the first four-way discussions since the crisis began.
Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk met President Barack Obama at the White House.
During their meeting, Barack Obama pledged to “stand with Ukraine” in its dispute with Russia.
The US president warned Russian President Vladimir Putin the international community “will be forced to apply costs” if Russia does not remove its troops from Crimea.
Earlier, leaders of the G7 group of nations issued a similar threat.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, speaking after meeting Barack Obama, said Ukraine “will never surrender” to Russia.
“It is absolutely unacceptable to have Russian boots on the Ukrainian ground in the 21st century, violating all international deals and treaties,” he said.
The diplomatic appeals to Moscow come ahead of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea, in which citizens will be asked if they want to stay with Ukraine or join Russia.
Ukraine’s interim PM Arseniy Yatsenyuk met President Barack Obama at the White House
The Russian military and pro-Russian armed men moved in to seize key sites in Crimea – an autonomous region of Ukraine whose population is mainly ethnic Russian – in late February after the fall of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Barack Obama said the US has “been very clear that we consider Russia’s incursion into Crimea outside of its bases to be a violation of international law”.
“We have been very firm in saying we will stand with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in ensuring that territorial integrity and sovereignty is maintained,” he added.
In reference to scheduled talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in London on Friday, Barack Obama said he hoped diplomatic efforts will result in a “rethinking of the process”.
But he stressed that if Moscow “continues on the path that it is on then, not only us, but the international community… will be forced to apply a cost to Russia’s violations of international law and its encroachments on Ukraine”.
The president did not specify what those costs would be, but Washington has already issued visa bans to some high-profile Russians and threatened asset freezes for others.
Barack Obama also said the US “will completely reject” the results of Crimea’s referendum, saying it had been put together in a “slapdash” way.
As Barack Obama and Arseniy Yatsenyuk were holding talks, the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted to authorize $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine’s new government and allow the US to impose sanctions on Russian and Ukrainian officials.
An apparently bugged phone conversation in which a senior US diplomat denigrates the EU over the Ukraine crisis has been posted online.
A female voice resembling that of Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland refers to the EU using a swear word, in a conversation apparently with US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt.
The US said Victoria Nuland had “apologized for these reported comments”.
The EU and the US are involved in talks to end months of unrest in Ukraine.
Mass anti-government protests erupted in Ukraine in late November after President Viktor Yanukovych refused to sign a far-reaching association and trade agreement with the EU – under heavy pressure from Moscow.
Russia has been widely accused of intervening in Ukraine, using its economic clout to persuade Viktor Yanukovych to abandon closer ties with Brussels.
Russia has itself accused Washington and the EU of meddling in Ukraine.
The alleged conversation between Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, appeared on YouTube on Thursday.
The 4 min 10sec video was entitled “Maidan’s puppets” in Russian – a reference to the square in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, where pro-EU protests have been held for months. A transcription of the whole conversation was also posted in Russian.
At one point, the female speaker mentions the UN and its possible role in trying to find a solution to the Ukraine stand-off.
She says: “So that would be great, I think, to help glue this thing and have the UN help glue it and you know…” she then uses the swear word about the EU.
Victoria Nuland joined Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt on Maidan Square during her visit to Kiev in December
The male replies: “We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it.”
The two officials also discuss frankly the merits of the three main Ukrainian opposition leaders – Vitaly Klitschko, Arseniy Yatseniuk and Oleh Tyahnybok.
The female speaker says that Vitaly Klitschko, the former heavyweight boxing world champion, should not be in any new government.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
She adds: “I think Yats [Arseniy Yatseniuk] is the guy who’s got the economic experience.”
US officials refused to confirm or deny the tape’s authenticity, but state department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said: “I didn’t say it was inauthentic.”
Jennifer Psaki said Victoria Nuland had “been in contact with her EU counterparts and of course has apologized for these reported comments”.
She also played down the comments about Ukraine’s opposition, saying: “It shouldn’t be a surprise that at any points there have been discussions about recent events and offers and what is happening on the ground.”
Jennifer Psaki hinted that the tape could have been leaked by Moscow, pointing out that a senior Russian official was one of the first to draw attention to the audio.
She said: “We think this is a new low in Russian trade-craft. This is something they’ve been actively promoting, posting on, tweeting about.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney added: “I would say that since the video was first noted and tweeted out by the Russian government, I think it says something about Russia’s role.”
Earlier on Thursday, a senior aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of interfering in Ukraine’s domestic affairs.
Sergei Glazyev said the US was spending $20 million (14.8 million euros) a week on Ukrainian opposition groups, supplying “rebels” with arms among other things.
And he suggested that Moscow could also intervene.
Viktor Yanukovych held talks in Kiev with Victoria Nuland on Thursday, at which he said he favored dialogue and compromise with the opposition.
The Ukrainian leader is to meet Vladimir Putin on Friday on the sidelines of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.
The ongoing debate over the future of Ukraine has exposed a deep rift between the opposing visions of the EU, US and Russia at the Munich Security Conference in Germany.
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy said the “future of Ukraine belongs with the EU” while US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US backed Ukraine’s “fight for democracy”.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused those defending violent protests of double standards.
Ukraine has been in turmoil since November, when it scrapped an EU accord in favor of a Russian bailout.
The security conference is an annual event held to discuss military and political affairs.
Herman Van Rompuy’s opening speech referred to the EU’s offer of close association with Ukraine.
“The offer is still there and we know time is on our side. The future of Ukraine belongs with the European Union,” he said.
John Kerry launched a broad attack on “a disturbing trend in too many parts of Central and Eastern Europe and the Balkans”.
He said: “The aspirations of citizens are once again being trampled beneath corrupt, oligarchic interests – interests that use money to stifle political opposition and dissent, to buy politicians and media outlets, and to weaken judicial independence.”
John Kerry added: “Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine. The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.”
The secretary of state said the “vast majority of Ukrainians want to live freely in a safe and prosperous country – they are fighting for the right to associate with partners who will help them realize their aspirations”.
In an apparent swipe at Moscow, John Kerry added that “their futures do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced”.
Sergei Lavrov said that a “choice is being imposed [on Ukraine] and Russia is not going to be engaged in this”.
He asked: “What does incitement of violent street protests have to do with the promotion of democracy? Why do we not hear condemnation of those who seize government buildings and attack police and use racist, anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans?”
Secretary of State John Kerry had harsh words for corruption in Eastern Europe and the Balkans at Munich Security Conference
Sergei Lavrov said: “Why are many prominent European politicians actually encouraging such actions, although back home they are quick to severely punish any violations of the law?”
Interfax also quoted Sergei Lavrov as saying: “When John Kerry… says that Ukraine should choose who it is with – with the whole world or with one country, Kerry – with his experience, good sense – is the last person I would expect such propaganda from.”
On Saturday John Kerry is scheduled to meet Ukraine opposition leaders said to include Arseniy Yatsenyuk, boxer-turned-politician Vitaly Klitschko, legislator Petro Poroshenko and pop star Ruslana Lyzhychko.
The White House has confirmed it is discussing possible sanctions against Ukraine with the US Congress.
It was unclear whether John Kerry will meet Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara, who is at the summit.
Before arriving in Munich, John Kerry said that concessions from President Viktor Yanukovych had “not yet reached an adequate level of reform”.
Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who heads the Batkivshchyna party, recently refused an offer from President Viktor Yanukovych to become PM, one of the concessions.
President Viktor Yanukovych, who is currently on sick leave, has also tried to ease the crisis by repealing anti-protest laws, signing an amnesty for protesters and accepting the resignation of his cabinet.
However, opposition leaders are calling for his resignation and early elections.
One key issue for John Kerry and the opposition leaders will be the issue of Ukraine protester Dmytro Bulatov.
Activist Dmytro Bulatov went missing for eight days and said he had been kidnapped and tortured by captors who spoke with Russian accents.
He is now in hospital in Kiev under guard from both police and anti-government demonstrators.
Both White House spokesman Jay Carney and EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said they were “appalled” by the apparent signs of torture.
US ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt went to the hospital on Saturday to try to meet Dmytro Bulatov.
Ukraine’s interior ministry says it wants to interrogate Dmytro Bulatov on suspicion of organizing mass unrest, and to examine his account of torture.
Ukraine’s PM Mykola Azarov has offered his resignation.
In a statement, Mykola Azarov said the move was designed to create “social and political compromise”.
In his resignation statement, PM Mykola Azarov said: “To create additional opportunities for social and political compromise and for a peaceful solution to the conflict, I made a personal decision to ask the president of Ukraine to accept my resignation as prime minister of Ukraine.”
Mykola Azarov said his resignation was designed to create social and political compromise
The government had “done everything to ensure the peaceful resolution of the conflict” and would do “everything possible to prevent bloodshed, an escalation of violence, and violation of citizen’s rights”, he said.
If President Viktor Yanukovych signs the decree for the resignation, then the whole cabinet resigns. But they can remain in their posts for 60 days until a new government is formed.
Viktor Yanukovych had already offered Mykola Azarov’s job to the opposition at the weekend, proposing that Fatherland leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk take the post.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych has agreed to talk with pro-EU protesters and opposition leaders after violent clashes in Kiev.
Viktor Yanukovych said a cross-party commission would be set up on Monday to try to resolve the deepening crisis. Opposition leaders confirmed this.
Earlier, a group of protesters – trying to reach parliament – clashed with police. Dozens of people were injured.
The US and EU called for an end to the violence and urgent political talks.
The violence broke out as many thousands of protesters held a rally in Kiev’s Independence Square, outraged by new laws which they said restricted basic freedoms.
The ruling party of Viktor Yanukovych denies this, saying the legislature is in line with European standards.
However, Western countries have expressed deep concern at the new laws.
The anti-government movement began in protest at Viktor Yanukovych’s decision in late November to pull out of a landmark treaty with the EU, but has expanded to demand his resignation.
President Viktor Yanukovych has agreed to talk with pro-EU protesters and opposition leaders after violent clashes in Kiev
Late on Sunday, President Viktor Yanukovych’s press office said a “working group” headed by National Security and Defense Secretary Andriy Kluyev would be set up.
It said the group – made of members of government and the presidential administration – would meet opposition representatives on Monday to try to resolve the crisis.
Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko confirmed this after meeting President Viktor Yanukovych at his residence outside Kiev.
“We must use every opportunity to resolve the crisis peacefully,” the former world heavyweight boxing champion, who leads the Udar party, told Ukraine’s Hromadske TV.
He warned against a “scenario of force”, adding that he “didn’t rule out the possibility of a civil war”.
Arseniy Yatseniuk, another opposition leader, said Viktor Yanukovych personally called him to say that he was ready for talks.
However, the opposition warned that the talks must produce real results and not be an opportunity for the president to play for time. The opposition is demanding the resignation of the government and snap presidential elections.
But opposition leaders are under huge pressure to come up with an action plan, amid criticism from many activists that their campaign has been too passive.