White House: Yanukovych not actively Ukraine head

Updated at: 02/25/2014 6:25 AM

Viktor Yanukovych
Viktor Yanukovych

(AP) WASHINGTON - WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration said Monday that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych is not actively leading the country as U.S. officials began preparing for a potential aid package to help foster stability for a new government in the capital of Kiev.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the administration believes the Ukrainian parliament has lawfully elected a new speaker, Oleksandr Turchinov, who has been acting as the government's interim leader in the wake of the wave of deadly protests that prompted Yanukovych to flee Kiev. Carney said Yanukovych's whereabouts were not known, although he reportedly was on the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, a pro-Russian area in Ukraine.

"While he was a democratically elected leader, his actions have undermined his legitimacy, and he is not actively leading the country at present," Carney told reporters.

Carney said the United States was prepared to help Ukraine regain economic stability by providing support that complements assistance from the International Monetary Fund.

It's not known how much money the U.S. would be willing to send to Kiev, but officials said a transitional government must be in place before any aid is provided.

Ukraine's economy is plummeting amid the tumult, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew were scheduled to meet with political, business and civil society leaders during a series of meetings in Kiev over the next two days. Top European Union officials are already there.

Congress must also approve any U.S. aid package, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, and several lawmakers on Monday signaled their support for assistance.

"Now more than ever, the Ukrainian people need the continued support of their friends," Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement. "The path of reform will be difficult, but if the new Ukrainian government is prepared to make these tough — and, at times, unpopular — decisions, it will need significant assistance from the IMF and the European Union. The United States must be ready to provide additional assistance as well."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., urged neighboring Russia to refrain from interfering in Ukraine's transition. The protests were sparked by Yanukovych's shelving of an agreement with the European Union in November and turning instead for a $15 billion bailout loan from Russia. Within weeks, the protests expanded to include outrage over corruption and human rights abuses, leading to calls for Yanukovych's resignation.

"Even as the country mourns its dead, Ukraine will now face a months-long process of reconstituting its government and regaining the trust of its people," Schiff said.

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