Ukraine's deposed leader vowed to return to power and blamed the U.S. and other Western powers for a “gangster coup” during his first press conference since fleeing to Russia.
“The disturbances and victims are the consequences of the political crisis, the result of the irresponsible policies of the West, which encouraged the [opposition movement] Maidan,” Viktor Yanukovych said during a defiant press conference Friday in Rostov-on-Don, 40 miles from the border with Ukraine.
Yanukovych fled the country when the Ukrainian parliament voted to depose him last weekend after a crackdown on protesters left dozens of people dead. He vowed to return to Ukraine “as soon as the safety of myself and my family can be guaranteed.”
“Nobody overthrew me,” he said in Russian, according to the BBC. “I was forced to leave Ukraine under a threat to my life. And to the lives of my loved ones.”
The Obama administration has sided squarely with the protesters, granting the new temporary government an emergency $1 billion loan this week to shore up the former Soviet country's dismal finances. Russia has denounced the recent developments but said it would not interfere, despite military maneuvers on the border with Ukraine and pro-Russian protests in its strategic Crimean region.
Ukraine has issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych for the crackdown on protesters, while Switzerland has opened a corruption investigation into him and his son. He addressed both issues, saying he owns no property outside of Ukraine and played no role in the attacks against protesters in Kiev.
“I never gave orders for the police to shoot,” Yanukovych said, while adding that police have a right to self-defense.
Yanukovych said since arriving in Russia, he has not met with President Vladimir Putin, who has offered him sanctuary, but talked to him on the phone. He said he was “categorically opposed” to a potential Russian intervention and urged Crimea to remain part of Ukraine.
“I believe that any military actions are unacceptable. I believe Ukraine should remain united and undivided,” he said. “Knowing the character of Vladimir Putin, I am astonished that he is still keeping quiet with such restraint.”
Yanukovych went on to say he would not participate in new elections scheduled for May, calling them illegal.
“I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine, against those who try to occupy it through fear and terror,” he said.
He ended with an appeal to the protesters.
“Please end this outrage,” he said. “You will be brought to account for this.”
Please send tips and comments to Julian Pecquet: email@example.com