By Lara Jakes
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration signaled Monday it no longer recognizes Viktor Yanukovych as Ukraine’s president. The shift of support for opposition leaders in Kiev came even as U.S. officials sought to assure Russia that it does not have to be shut out of a future relationship with a new Ukrainian government.
Yanukovych was widely seen as a puppet of Moscow against Ukraine protesters who demanded stronger ties with the European Union to boost the faltering economy of the onetime Soviet state.
His whereabouts were unknown after he fled the capital Kiev in the wake of deadly protests seeking his ouster. U.S. officials said the International Monetary Fund was considering an aid package as high as $15 billion to help stabilize a new, transitional government in Kiev.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the U.S. would provide additional aid to complement the IMF, aimed at fostering Ukrainian economic stability, but it was not immediately clear how much money it would provide. Officials later said any U.S. assistance would seek to help Ukraine through political reforms, in part though investing more in health and education.
“Yanukovych left Kiev. He took his furniture, packed his bags, and we don’t have more information on his whereabouts,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters. “So there are officials who have stepped in and are acting in response to that leadership gap at the moment.”
Carney said that although Yanukovych “was a democratically elected leader, his actions have undermined his legitimacy, and he is not actively leading the country at present.” Senior U.S. officials, including Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, are 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. Psaki said Congress must approve any U.S. aid package, and several lawmakers on Monday called for a quick show of support for Ukraine’s new leaders.
“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.”