Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked parliament to pass a vote of confidence in the government on Friday after the shock resignation of premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk piled political uncertainty onto the crisis wracking the country.
Yatsenyuk quit in protest Thursday after the ruling European Choice coalition collapsed following the withdrawal of several parties, a move that paved the way for long-awaited parliamentary polls to be announced.
Ukraine’s cabinet on Friday elevated deputy prime minister Volodymyr Groysman — who has been coordinating Kiev’s response to the downing of Malaysian flight MH17 in east Ukraine — to the post of acting premier.
Pro-Western Yatsenyuk — who helped steer the country through upheaval since the ouster of Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in February — lashed out at the decision to pull the plug on the coalition as Kiev is struggling to end a bloody separatist insurrection tearing apart the east.
The break up of the parliamentary majority gives Poroshenko — who was elected in May — the right over the next month to announce a fresh parliamentary election, which has been on the cards since Yanukovych’s toppling.
And the gravity of the situation facing the country was underscored by allegations from Washington that the US has evidence Russian troops are firing artillery on Ukrainian military positions from Russian soil.
Although a truce has been declared by both rebels and government forces in the immediate vicinity of the vast crash site, heavy shelling was ongoing nearby including around Donetsk, just 60 kilometres (40 miles) from the scene.
Ukraine’s army reported four soldiers killed over the last 24 hours in its offensive to retake the eastern industrial heartland from pro-Russian insurgents.
Countries which lost 298 citizens in the disaster are looking to deploy armed police to secure the impact zone, with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announcing the Netherlands was sending 40 unarmed police to the crash site.
Abbott has placed 50 Australian officers on stand-by in London.
– ‘Rockets from Russia’ –
The Ukrainian military said rockets were on Thursday being fired “from the Russian side”, hitting locations close to Lugansk airport and in several areas in the Donetsk region.
Mortar shells also rained down on Avdiyika in the Donetsk region, the army said, without giving details of casualties.
An AFP crew heading to one of these combat hotspots Wednesday was turned back by rebels, who fired shots at their car.
Kiev said two fighter jets that were downed on Wednesday were hit by missiles launched from Russian territory, and that while the pilots ejected safely, there was no information about their whereabouts.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf warned that Moscow was planning to deliver “heavier and more powerful multiple rocket launchers” to the pro-Russian separatist forces in Ukraine.
– EU to put more under sanctions –
The EU, which accuses Russia of fanning the rebellion in Ukraine’s east by arming the separatists, will add 15 Ukrainian and Russian individuals and 18 entities to its sanctions list, said a source from the bloc.
The move came just a week after the EU unveiled a round of toughened embargoes against Moscow, which is widely expected to sink into recession this year.
In the debate over more sanctions, Britain ruffled feathers in neighbouring France over its push for an EU arms embargo, as Paris is keen to go ahead with its sale of two warships to Russia.
On Thursday, Poroshenko said he was “very disappointed” at France’s insistence on the deal, saying: “It’s not a question of money, industry or jobs. It’s a question of values.”
US intelligence officials have said they believe the rebels mistakenly shot down the Malaysia Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur with a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia.
Moscow has denied the charges and Putin has pledged to “do everything” to influence the separatists and ensure a full probe into the crash.