RUSSIA'S prime minister denounced an "armed mutiny" in Ukraine as the country's new government issued an arrest warrant for Viktor Yanukovych, the deposed president.
Dmitry Medvedev vented the Kremlin's anger over the downfall of a pro-Russian regime in a former Soviet republic where Moscow had hoped to retain influence.
As Ukraine's politicians wrangled over the formation of an interim administration, Mr Medvedev made clear that the country's new leaders would have no legitimacy in Russia's eyes.
"This is some kind of aberration of perception, when people call legitimate what is essentially the result of an armed mutiny."
There was "no one for us to communicate with" in Kiev and "we do not understand what is going on there", said Mr Medvedev as he warned: "There is a real threat to our interests and to the lives of our citizens."
His comments were echoed by an angry crowd of more than 1,000 gathered outside the town hall in Sebastopol, the Ukrainian port in the Crimea that is the base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet, guarded by about 25,000 Russian troops.
Protesters against the interim government called on the city council to appoint a new mayor and "executive committee" to govern the city independently of what they called "the illegitimate regime installed by bandits and fascists" in Kiev.
Mr Medevdev's intervention did nothing to lessen fears in the West that Russia may yet consider some kind of military operation, perhaps under the guise of protecting the largely Russian-speaking population of southern and eastern Ukraine.
In another sign of its anger over the course of events, Russia formally recalled its ambassador from Kiev.
A statement from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow claimed that the revolution had set "a course" towards "suppressing dissenters in various regions of Ukraine by dictatorial – and sometimes even terrorist – means".
However, no details were given and Ukraine's own Foreign Ministry said that Russia's fears about the safety of its citizens were unfounded.
Yesterday, an arrest warrant was issued for Mr Yanukovych, who fled from Kiev under cover of darkness last Friday, to answer charges of "mass murder of peaceful citizens".
The fallen president is believed to have flown to the city of Kharkiv in his political stronghold in eastern Ukraine. He then travelled onwards to his home city of Donetsk.
Arsen Avakov, the interior minister, said the former president tried to leave from Donetsk on a private jet but was denied permission to take off. Since then, he is believed to have fled to the Russian-speaking Crimea. (© Daily Telegraph, London)
Telegraph Media Group Limited