Ukraine’s deposed ex-President Viktor Yanukovych said he’s still the nation’s rightful leader and urged Russia to refrain from military intervention in the southern Crimea region, where unrest spread.
Speaking for the first time since leaving Ukraine, Yanukovych told reporters today in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don that the country should abide by a peace accord sealed a week ago with European Union diplomats under which he’d remain leader through December. He labeled the parliament in Kiev illegitimate and vowed to return when it’s safe.
“The whole Ukrainian people were cheated — I’d like to get an answer from those who signed this agreement,” Yanukovych said wearing a dark suit, a white shirt and a blue tie and sitting in front of Ukrainian flags. Asked about Crimea, he said he’s “categorically against intervention in Ukraine, against the violation of its integrity as a sovereign state.”
Since Yanukovych was overthrown in the nation’s bloodiest week since World War II, ethnic strife erupted in Ukraine’s southern Crimea region, where the majority of the population is Russian. Unidentified gunmen occupied two airports on the Black Sea peninsula as Russia conducts a military exercise nearby, raising concern about a potential intervention.
Ukraine yesterday confirmed an interim cabinet headed by Premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk, a leader in the three months of antigovernment street protests that toppled Yanukovych last week. Yatsenyuk is trying to stave off a default by agreeing on international aid and is battling unfolding unrest in Crimea, where gunmen also took over the parliament building.
“As long as Yanukovych continues to actively oppose the interim government and seeks to return to Ukraine, the risk of renewed unrest and potential escalation persists,” Alisa Lockwood, head of Europe/CIS analysis at IHS Country Risk, said in an e-mailed note. “The lack of a direct appeal to Russia with regards to military intervention is significant, in terms of attenuating war risks to some extent.”
Ukraine has been seized by nationalists who should lay down their weapons, according to Yanukovych, who said lawlessness, terror and chaos ensued in the wake of the broken EU accord and apologized for failing to uphold stability.
The events in Crimea are a natural reaction to the uprising in Kiev, according to Yanukovych. Even so, he said Crimea should remain a part of Ukraine and appealed those involved in the unrest to avoid bloodshed. While calling for restraint, he said Russia should do all it can to end the “chaos” in Ukraine.
Yanukovych said yesterday that he’d asked Russia for safe haven. Today, he said he’d spoken by phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin, though the pair haven’t met yet.
“We agreed that as soon as the Russian president gets a chance, he’ll meet with me,” Yanukovych said. “When that’s going to happen, I don’t know.”
Yanukovych said he’d been betrayed after signing the EU- brokered agreement, blamed the West for the fact the deal hasn’t been implemented and called on the current authorities to step down. He said they’d be held accountable for “lawlessness.”
“I’m the real president,” he said. “If the president hasn’t resigned, according to the constitution, if he’s alive — and you can see that I’m alive — and if this president hasn’t been impeached by parliament, he’s still the president.”
Ukraine’s new administration has called early presidential elections for May 25. While Yanukovych said he’d planned to run in the scheduled ballot next year, he said he won’t participate in the snap vote as he considers it illegal.
Yanukovych denied allowing police in Kiev to shoot protesters, saying they’d only been issued with weapons toward the end of clashes in which more than 80 people died and only returned fire when facing live rounds themselves. He he wouldn’t have left Ukraine had his life not been in danger.
“When I was still in Kiev, I came under gunfire from automatic rifles,” Yanukovych said. “The car that was covering me was hit by bullets from all sides. I didn’t flee.”