Moscow pledges to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity after Russian flag raised in Crimea

After armed men seized the Crimea parliament building and raised the Russian flag, the US says Russia has pledged to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Kyiv’s new government has approached the IMF for help.

Pro Russian demonstratin in the Crimean city of Simferopol

Russia has denied that Moscow had any hand in the takeover of the local parliament building in Simferopol, the Crimean regional capital on Thursday. Gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles erected a sign reading “Crimea is Russia” and raised the Russian flag over the building. The gunmen wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of victory in World War II.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow “will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine” but voiced concerns about the situation in Crimea, according to US Secretary of State John Kerry. After meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Washington, Kerry said he had spoken by telephone with Lavrov on Thursday.

Kerry said Lavrov had assured him that military exercises which saw Russian jets fly near the border on Thursday were long planned and had nothing to do with events in Ukraine.

Steinmeier called on Moscow to work with the United States and the European Union to help Ukraine. “No one will benefit from this country teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. We need political stabilization to be accompanied by economic stabilization,” Steinmeier said.

The German minister confirmed that the EU was thinking of offering about a billion euros in loan guarantees to Ukraine, but he said the International Monetary Fund (IMF) first had to assess what was needed.

Reaction in Kyiv

Oleksandr Turchynov, acting president after Yanukovych’s flight, condemned the assault as a “crime against the government of Ukraine.” He warned that any move by Russian troops off of their base in Crimea “will be considered a military aggression.”

“I have given orders to the military to use all methods necessary to protect the citizens, punish the criminals, and to free the buildings,” Turchynov said.

Ahead of his appointment as prime minister on Thursday, Arseniy Yatsenyuk insisted the country wouldn’t accept the secession of Crimea. The Black Sea territory, he said, “has been and will be a part of Ukraine.”

IMF team visit

IMF chief Christine Lagarde said Thursday that Ukraine’s new government of technocrats had made a formal request for IMF help and a fact-finding team was being dispatched to Kyiv.

Lagarde said, in the organization’s first official statement on recent events in Ukraine, that the IMF was in talks with its partners on “how best to help Ukraine at this critical moment in its history.”

Ukraine’s finance ministry has said it needs $35 billion (25 billion euros) over the next two years to avoid default. Ukraine’s currency, the hryvnia, has dropped to a new record low against the US dollar.

News of Yanukovych

Former president Viktor Yanukovych issued a statement on Thursday saying that he considers himself still to be Ukraine’s legitimate president.

He was reportedly to hold a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border.

A Russian news organization said the fugitive leader was staying at the Kremlin-run Barvikha retreat just outside Moscow.