MOSCOW (Reuters) - Viktor Yanukovich said on Thursday he was still president of Ukraine and warned its “illegitimate” rulers that people in the southeastern and southern regions would never accept mob rule.
In a statement sent to Russian news agencies from an unknown location, Yanukovich railed against the “extremists” who had stolen power in Ukraine, threatened violence against himself and his closest aides and passed “illegal” laws.
Almost a week after he was toppled by violent protests against widespread corruption in the former Soviet state, Yanukovich’s whereabouts are still unknown after he fled the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
The 63-year-old is now wanted in Ukraine on charges of mass murder over the police shooting of demonstrators, and Russian and Ukrainian media have speculated he may have travelled to Moscow, although that could not be confirmed.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman said he had no information and could not comment on Yanukovich’s statement.
“I, Viktor Fedorovich Yanukovich appeal to the people of Ukraine. As before I still consider myself to be the lawful head of the Ukrainian state, chosen freely by the will of the Ukrainian people,” he was quoted as saying.
“Now it is becoming clear that the people in southeastern Ukraine and in Crimea do not accept the power vacuum and complete lawlessness in the country, when the heads of ministries are appointed by the mob.”
Armed men seized the regional government headquarters and parliament in Ukraine’s Crimea and raised the Russian flag, alarming Kiev’s new rulers, increasingly concerned by sabre-rattling in Moscow.
In a show of strength, Putin has ordered surprise military training in its central and western regions, the latter of which borders Ukraine, and on Thursday the Defence Ministry said it had put warplanes along its western borders on combat alert.
Military analysts in Russia said there was little danger of military action.
“The importance of the (naval) base in Crimea is absolutely incomparable to the colossal international damage that Russia would face in the case of military intervention,” said Defence analyst Alexander Golts.
Some said Yanukovich’s statement showed a man still more concerned with his own personal safety than that of his fellow countrymen. Ukrainian opposition leader Arseny Yatseniuk, proposed to head the new interim government, said Yanukovich was no longer president, rather a “wanted man”.
Yanukovich said much of Ukraine had been enveloped by an “orgy of extremism” and he and his closest aides had been threatened physically.
“I have to ask the Russian authorities to provide me with personal safety from the actions of extremists.”
Interfax news agency quoted a source in the authorities as saying Moscow would ensure Yanukovich’s safety on Russian territory.
“In connection with the appeal by president Yanukovich for his personal security to be guaranteed, I report that the request has been granted on the territory of the Russian Federation,” the source was quoted as saying.
Yanukovich also cast doubt on any of the new legislation being pushed through the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, saying many members of his party, the Party of the Regions, were too scared to turn up.
“The decisions being taken by parliament are illegal, they are being taken when many members of the Party of the Regions are absent, and people from other factions, who are scared for their security,” he said.
He pushed an argument supported by Russia that a short-lived agreement mediated by the European Union on Friday envisaging a power-sharing arrangement and a new presidential election by December still held.
“In this situation, I officially declare my determination to fight until the end for the honoring of the important compromise agreements to bring Ukraine out of its deep political crisis,” he said.
Additional reporting by Darya Korsunskaya and Thomas Grove, writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Peter Millership