I'm still country's legitimate leader, insists Yanukovych
The fugitive Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych used his first public appearance in almost a week to call on Russia for help, insisting that he remains Ukraine's legitimate leader.
"Russia should act, and is obliged to act," Yanukovych told journalists in a hastily convened press conference in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don yesterday. "Knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, I am surprised at the fact that he is still so reticent, so silent," he said.
Yanukovych said the Russian leader had refused to meet him – though the two had spoken by telephone. Putin has not commented on the Ukrainian crisis since the opposition seized power in Kiev.
Sighing repeatedly, and at one point appearing to break a pen with which he was fiddling, Yanukovych berated Western powers for fomenting unrest in the former Soviet nation. "I intend to continue the battle for the future of Ukraine against those who are using fear and terror to try and master her," he said. "I am the current president. If the current president has not retired, if he is alive – and, as you can see I am alive – then he is the president."
The meeting with journalists took place in a conference centre on the outskirts of the port city as it snowed outside. The once powerful Yanukovych, whose presidency saw the enrichment of his allies, a concentration of power and a final, bloody crackdown on protesters, was obliged to answer questions about his kitsch mansion outside Kiev, which was thrown open to curious Ukrainians after his government crumbled.
"I sold everything that I had and paid $3.2m (€2.3m) for that house," he said, to the amusement of some journalists.
Now wanted in Ukraine on mass murder charges linked to the killing of more than 80 protesters during clashes with security forces, Yanukovych has been disowned by many former supporters who describe him as a traitor. There has also been an exodus in recent days from his Party of the Regions, which in a statement earlier this week described him as a coward.
Yanukovych denied any knowledge of Russian troops operating in the Crimean peninsula. He said he was opposed to military intervention or attempts by Ukrainian regions to push for secession.
In one of several attempts at contrition, Yanukovych maintained he was ashamed, and asked for forgiveness. "I did not have enough strength to maintain stability," he said. But he denied that he was responsible for the violence in Kiev.(© Daily Telegraph, London)