The Ukrainian authorities said on Thursday ousted President Viktor Yanukovich was involved in drawing up plans under which police snipers shot dead dozens of anti-government protesters and hinted at a Russian role in the violent crackdown.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov told reporters that 12 members of the Berkut police had been identified as snipers and arrested.
He presented what he said was new evidence from the shootings on 18-20 February, when 76 people were killed.
At a news conference in Kiev, Avakov presented the initial findings of an initial investigation into the mass shootings that shocked Ukraine and the world.
Avakov gave details of one particular episode where he said the inquiry had established that eight of those killed were hit by bullets from the same machine-gun.
He identified Maj Dmytro Sadovnyk as commander of a unit suspected of shooting dead at least 17 protesters.
"From the side of the the Zhovtnevy Palace, a special squad from the riot Berkut police, wearing yellow armbands, opened fire at the protesters. Much of this fire was targeted. We are carrying out ballistics tests on the weapons," Avakov said.
Members of the security services\’ special unit Alfa are also believed to have taken part in the shootings, he added.
The interior minister also showed a number of slides and photos illustrating where he said police snipers were firing from. He named two buildings on Khreshchatyk and Kostyolna streets, saying other spots were still being investigated.
And he added that the previous authorities had tried to make the inquiry impossible by burning uniforms, dumping weapons and destroying documents.
Months of mass protests led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych.
Speaking at the same news conference, the head of Ukraine\’s security service (Valentyn Nalyvaychenko) said there were grounds to believe that agents of Russia\’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, were involved in "the planning and implementation of the so-called anti-terrorist operation" in the Ukrainian capital in late February.
Ukraine\’s government also announced Thursday the detention of 12 members of an elite riot police unit on suspicion of shooting protesters.
The FSB responded to the Ukrainian charges Thursday, with an unnamed spokesman telling Russia\’s state news agency RIA Novosti: "Let those allegations remain on the conscience of the Ukrainian Security Service."
Yanukovych, who fled Kyiv in February after months of anti-government protests, said Wednesday he was "wrong" to invite Russian troops into Ukraine\’s Crimean peninsula.
In his first interview since he sought refuge in Russia, Yanukovych told the Associated Press and Russia\’s NTV television that he will try to persuade Moscow to return the territory to Ukrainian control.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Russian troops deployed near the Ukrainian border will return to their permanent bases as soon as they finish military exercises.
NATO\’s top commander, General Philip Breedlove, said Wednesday that the 40,000 Russian troops in the border are area "ready to go" and could take over large parts of Ukraine in as little as three days.
Ukrainian officials have said as many as 100,000 Russian soldiers along its eastern and southern borders are poised to invade.
Lavrov Thursday called on the West and Ukraine to de-escalate the rhetoric, which he says is becoming unreasonable.
He also asked NATO for answers on its plans to beef up defenses in Eastern Europe — a direct response to the Russian takeover of Crimea.
Meanwhile, Gazprom, Russia\’s state-owned natural gas export monopoly, said Thursday that it was hiking the price of natural gas shipments to Ukraine another 26 percent, just two days after announcing a 44-percent price hike.
Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuri Prodan said the hikes were excessive and amounted to a "political price."
Source – Agencies