Ousted Ukraine president warns of civil war, criticizes U.S. for aiding current government

Speaking in his second public address in Russia since leaving Ukraine, ousted president Viktor Yanukovich said he remains the country's commander in chief. (Reuters)
March 11

Ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday backed up Russia’s version of the situation in his country, saying a junta in Kiev had provoked Crimea to secede by spreading lawlessness and refusing to protect civilians from violence.

“The cities are being patrolled by masked gunmen,” Yanukovych said in a statement to the press in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. “This new government is firing officers from the army, those officers who don’t want lawlessness committed against civilians. They want civil war to break out.”

Yanukovych, who read from a statement in Russian and did not take questions, accused the West and the United States of backing fascists in Ukraine — another regular allegation being made by Russian authorities.

“There is a gang of ultranationalists and fascists operating the government,” he said. “I would like to ask those who cover for these dark forces in the West: Are you blind? Have you forgotten what fascism is?”

[Read a transcript of his remarks]

His former spokeswoman, Hanna Herman, gave a withering description of his appearance to the BBC’s Ukraine service.

“He should have been calming people down by blocking the illegal [Crimean separatist] referendum,” she said. “That would have been the position of a man who is ready to fight body and soul for the country. Anything else looks pathetic.”

Yanukovych last appeared in public Feb. 28, in a news conference also in Rostov, when he asserted he was still the legal president of Ukraine and that he was not calling upon Russia to intervene militarily.

The next day, Russia’s parliament authorized President Vladimir Putin to send troops into Ukraine, and soon thereafter Russia asserted that Yanukovych had requested the intervention the day after he spoke to the press.

On March 6, after gunmen took over the parliament building in the Crimean regional capital, Simferopol, a pro-Russian leadership was installed. Then the regional parliament voted behind closed doors for Crimea to leave Ukraine and join Russia, setting a referendum for Sunday to validate their decision.

Yanukovych railed against the United States on Tuesday for offering $1 billion in aid to the new Ukrainian government in Kiev and said he intended to ask the U.S. Congress, Senate and Supreme Court to investigate its legality. American law, he asserted, prevented aid to unconstitutional governments.

Later Tuesday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement reinforcing Yanukovych’s remarks in such similar language that it suggested the Russians had provided him with a script.

“Apparently, the U.S. administration will continue turning a blind eye to the dominance of ultra-national forces in Kiev,” the Foreign Ministry statement said. “But U.S. decision-makers should think about the consequences of such reckless indulgence of radical elements of nationalistic shade in Ukraine and financial aid to them.”

The statement helpfully cited the U.S. law that Yanukovych said was being violated. The Foreign Ministry said amendments to the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Section 22, Paragraph 8422, prohibited financial aid to any country where the president has been unlawfully overthrown.

But the Foreign Ministry apparently failed to read the fine print. The amendment applies only to Pakistan.

In any case, the United States has said the removal of Yanukovych by the Ukrainian parliament was legal. It is Russian leaders — and Yanukovych himself — who insist that he was illegally overthrown.

The deposed president began his statement Tuesday by declaring that he is alive, contrary to some rumors that suggested he had died. He said he is still commander in chief of Ukraine’s armed forces. And while he did not try to give any military orders in his statement, he said Ukrainian officers know better than to take orders from a “fascist government.”

Although Putin reportedly dislikes Yanukovych and thought he should have acted more harshly against protesters, the Russian president has given the ousted leader refuge. Yanukovych said he would return to Ukraine when conditions improved.

“You must know that one day the country will unite,” he said. “The people will not remain so blinded.”

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