ROSTOV-ON-DON, February 28 (Howard Amos, RIA Novosti) – Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych lashed out at the West on Friday for its support for what he described as the violent usurpers that seized power in his former Soviet nation over the weekend.
Looking nervous while addressing reporters in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovych rejected suggestions that he had been overthrown and insisted he was forced to flee Ukraine under duress.
“Power in Ukraine was seized by nationalists, neo-Fascist youths that represent an absolute minority of the people,” he said. “I was not overthrown. I was forced to leave Ukraine under immediate threat to my life and the lives of my loved ones.”
Yanukovych, who was making his first appearance in public since leaving the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, over the weekend, appeared on edge. At one moment he broke a pen with which he was fiddling, and he provoked some laughter in the hall when he mistakenly said “Ukraine” when he was trying to say “Russia.”
Yanukovych characterized the current situation in Ukraine as one of “illegality, terror, anarchy and chaos,” and said that those now in power in Kiev were fully to blame for the current crisis.
“I lay the responsibility for this on those now in power … and the representatives of the West, including the United States, who gave their support to the Maidan,” he said, referring to the square that served as the focal point of the protest movement that spearheaded his unseating.
Yanukovych’s press conference took place in a sprawling conference center on the outskirts of Rostov-on-Don. In the next-door building an exhibition of agricultural machinery was taking place.
The fugitive president did not give a reason why he was in the city, except to say that he was staying with an “old friend.” He said he would return to Ukraine as soon as his safety could be guaranteed.
Yanukovych used the gathering as a platform from which to appeal to Russia for help, but said that he did not support armed intervention. He said he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin by telephone, but emphasized that they had not met in person.
“Knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin I am surprised that he is still so reticent, so silent,” he said.
Putin has made no public comment on the Ukrainian crisis since the opposition swept to power in Kiev.
On Saturday, Yanukovych was impeached by erstwhile protesters who took control over parliament and banded together with disaffected deputies from the ex-ruling Party of Regions.
The impeachment vote came one day after opposition parties signed an agreement with Yanukovych on a political settlement to form a unity government, call early elections and reform the constitution.
That proposed arrangement was superseded by events, however, when the opposition occupied the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, as police disappeared from the center of Kiev.
Yanukovych said he did not recognize the authority of parliament.
“I believe the Verkhovna Rada is illegitimate, and I still believe that [Friday’s] agreement was not fulfilled,” he said. “If it had been fulfilled, or if it is fulfilled, it would to a considerable extent calm the situation and begin the process of settling the political crisis in Ukraine.”
“This is the only way out of the impasse to which we have been brought by the radicals,” he said.
Interim authorities have called elections for May 25, but Yanukovych said he would not acknowledge the legitimacy of that planned vote.
“It is illegal, and I will not be taking part,” he said.
Yanukovych even had to face questions Friday about the contents of his mansion outside Kiev that was thrown open to curious locals last weekend after he left the capital.
“I sold everything that I had and paid $3.2 million for that house. All the rest that is there now does not belong to me. I rented part of the site,” he said in a long response to question about ponies that he allegedly kept on the estate.
Ukraine’s Interior Ministry on Monday issued an arrest warrant for Yanukovych on charges of mass murder.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Yanukovych was being sought in connection with the killings of “innocent citizens,” a reference to protesters who died during clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces.
Authorities in Kiev have said they want to see Yanukovych tried in the International Criminal Court for the killings.
Yanukovych said in response to a question on the prospect of a trial in The Hague that he first wanted to see an impartial investigation into the events that led to at least 82 deaths, including more than a dozen police officers, on the streets of Kiev.
“There must be an independent investigation involving the government and opposition, first of all, and then the Council of Europe. After an independent investigation, then we can start talks about courts,” he said.
At the height of the unrest, authorities insisted that police were simply protecting government buildings from violent extremists. Many of those involved in clashes with police were armed with shields, sticks and Molotov cocktails, and some were reportedly also carrying firearms.
A large number of protesters killed in clashes bore gunshot wounds that opposition representatives said were sustained as a result of sniper fire.
Yanukovych said at the press conference that he never gave any orders to fire on rioters.
“I never gave the police any orders to shoot. The police, as you know, were unarmed until the very last moment. When there was a danger that they could be killed, that is when they began shooting. It was then that the police began to take up arms,” he said.
Updates with more details, comments on Putin