Defiant Yanukovych vows to fight on as he emerges in Russia

Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich takes part in a news conference in the south Russian city of Rostov-on-Don February 28, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia: Ukraine's ousted president Viktor Yanukovych insisted on Friday that he had not been overthrown as he defiantly resurfaced in Russia from a week in hiding and savaged the new pro-Western powers in Kiev.

The deposed pro-Kremlin leader spoke hours after Ukraine's pro-EU interim authorities said they had regained control of two Crimean airports seized during an "armed invasion" by Russian forces.

Yanukovych -- sitting confident in a pressed suit with a dark blue tie in front of three Ukrainian flags -- appeared before a swarm of reporters in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-On-Don, less than two hours' drive from the border with Ukraine.

The 63-year old said he had arrived in Russia "thanks to a patriotically-minded young officer" after being "compelled to leave" Ukraine over security fears.

He vowed to continue to fight for Ukraine's future while boycotting snap presidential polls the new Western-backed team in Kiev has set for May 25.

"I have not been overthrown by anyone, I was compelled to leave Ukraine due to an immediate threat to my life and the life of those close to me," he said.

"I intend to continue the fight for the future of Ukraine against those who try to saddle it with fear and terror."

He called Ukraine' new leaders "young neo-fascists" and blamed the "irresponsible policies" of the West for his country's crisis.

Yanukovych also apologised to the Ukrainian people and said he would return once his safety could be guaranteed. "I am ashamed," he said. "I did not have the strength to keep stability."

He revealed that he had spoken by phone with -- but had not met -- Russian President Vladimir Putin, but voiced surprise that his ally had not yet spoken out on Ukraine since his flight.

Ukraine's general prosecutor had earlier on Friday warned that Kiev would ask Moscow to extradite Yanukovych -- accused of "mass murder" over carnage in Kiev that claimed nearly 100 lives last week.

Ukraine's bloodiest crisis since its 1991 independence erupted in November when Yanukovych made the shock decision to ditch an EU trade pact in favour of closer ties with old master Russia.

The spiralling tensions in a nation torn between the West and Russia took a severe new turn on Friday when Ukraine's new leaders accused Russian soldiers and local pro-Kremlin militia of staging raids on Crimea's main airport and another base on the southwest of the peninsula where pro-Moscow sentiment runs high.

A spokesman for Russia's Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet denied any involvement in the airport occupations. But Ukraine's parliament immediately appealed to the US and Britain to uphold a 1994 pact with Russia that guaranteed the country's sovereignty in return for it giving up its Soviet nuclear arms.

Both lawmakers and UN Security Council chair Lithuania said they would also ask the world body to address the Crimea crisis at its next session -- a request that would need to gain support from veto-wielding members such as Russia.

Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said he viewed the incident as "an armed invasion and an occupation" by Russia.

National Security and Defence Council chief Andriy Parubiy later told reporters that security forces had successfully retaken control of the sites.

"The airports are now controlled by Ukrainian law enforcement authorities," Parubiy said in televised remarks.

But AFP reporters said dozens of men in battle fatigues and armed with Kalashnikovs continued to encircled the Simferopol airport.

AFP reporters also saw soldiers with machine guns and dressed in green military fatigues that carried no national identification blocking the main road leading to Ukraine's Belbek military air base near the city of Sevastopol -- home to Russia's Black Sea Fleet.

In his address to reporters, which was broadcast live on Russian television and last for over an hour, Yanukovych said the Crimea tensions were a "natural reaction" to the "bandit-like" takeover of power but that the region must remain part of Ukraine.

Western governments have been watching with increasing alarm as Kiev's new rulers grapple with the dual threats of economic collapse and secession by Russian-speaking southern and eastern regions that had backed Yanukovych.

Putin this week stoked concerns that Moscow might use its military might to sway the outcome of Ukraine's three-month standoff by ordering snap combat drills near the border involving 150,000 troops and nearly 900 tanks.

US Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to relieve diplomatic pressure in a crisis that has increasingly assumed Cold War overtones by announcing that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had assured him Moscow "will respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine".

Putin also appeared to take a more conciliatory approach Thursday by vowing to work on improving trade ties and promising to support international efforts to provide Kiev with funds that could keep it from declaring a debt default as early as next week.

Switzerland meanwhile said it was freezing the assets of 20 Ukrainian figures -- including Yanukovych and his multi-millionaire son Olexandr -- and also launching a money laundering probe.

Austria announced a similar move against 20 Ukrainian figures that it did not name.

It is unclear whether Yanukovych himself has any funds in Switzerland. But his 40-year-old son opened a branch of his Management Assets Company (MAKO) in Geneva in late 2011.





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