Yanukovich: I fled Ukraine for fear of my life

After days of mystery, deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich emerged today in the Russia city of Rostov-on-Don to hold a press conference. Yanukovich declared himself the legitimate head of state for Ukraine, and told journalists that he fled his own country for fear of his life. He demanded to return under secure circumstances so that he could resume his term of office — but that Russia needs to stay out of the conflict:

Appearing in public for the first time since he left his nation’s capital earlier this week, ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych told reporters in Russia on Friday that he is “eager and ready to fight for the future of Ukraine.” …

Yanukovych vowed to return to Ukraine “as soon as there will be a guarantee for my safety and the security of my family.”

But Yanukovych, according to an English translation aired by the BBC and other news outlets, decried those who he said are using “terror and fear” to rule Ukraine and who he said forced him to flee even though he had agreed to a play for new elections later this year. He referred to his toppling as “banditry and a coup.”

Last weekend’s “circus in the parliament,” Yanukovych claimed, did not lead to his legal removal from office. “I cannot call it impeachment,” he said, “and I cannot recognize it and I will not recognize it, ever.”

Yanukovich faces charges for mass murder if he returns to Ukraine, after the killings of 88 unarmed protesters in Kyiv. He rejects those charges.

“I never gave orders for the police to shoot,” Mr Yanukovych says. But police have the right to self-defence, he adds.

The BBC said this led to “derisive laughter” from crowds gathering on Independence Square to listen to his remarks.

Yanukovich insisted that he would not call for any outside intervention … at least, not military intervention. “I am categorically opposed to an invasion of Ukraine and the violation of its integrity,” he said, and urged Crimeans to remain calm and part of Ukraine. “Ukraine should be a single, united country.” On the other hand, Yanukovich declared himself “astonished” at the lack of reaction from Vladimir Putin over his ouster. “Knowing the character of Vladimir Putin, I am astonished that he is still keeping quiet with such restraint.”

Most of us assume that the quiet part is cover for other actions, as most of the world knows the character of Vladimir Putin, too. We’re seeing it in Crimea at the moment, where Russian special forces are now surrounding a Coast Guard base to keep locals from seizing weapons and taking back their airports:

Around 30 Russian marines surrounded the coast guard base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol on Friday, according to a statement by the Ukraine’s state border guard.

The statement, reported by The Associated Press, said the marines were paratroopers from the 810th brigade of Russia’s Black Sea fleet and quoted them as saying they were there to prevent extremists seizing the base’s weapons.

While Yanukovich insists that the criminal charges against him in Ukraine are unmerited, that’s not the only country where he has legal problems. Switzerland froze his assets, as well as those of his son Oleksander and 18 other Ukrainians connected to him:

The Swiss financial regulator FINMA says the assets of Ukraine’s ousted President Viktor Yanukovich, his son Oleksander, and 18 other Ukrainians have been frozen.The assets were blocked as of 12:00 CET on Friday. …

Included on this list is Mykola Azarov, the former Prime Minister who resigned from his post in January.

Banks now “have a due diligence requirement” to cooperate with the order to cut off access to any funds Yanukovich or the other listed 19 people may hold in Switzerland.

The Swiss have also opened a probe of Yanukovich after allegations of money laundering:

Separately, on Thursday prosecutors in Geneva began a investigation into Yanukovich and money laundering . Prosecutors have searched the office of his son Oleksander and seized documents.

“A penal investigation for severe money laundering is currently being conducted in Geneva against Viktor Yanukovich and his son Oleksander,” the prosecutor’s office said in a statement, Friday.

Gee, I wonder who his client might have been, if the allegations turn out to be true?

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023