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Thursday, December 8, 2016

By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times

MOSCOW — Ukraine’s deposed President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday declared himself still the legitimate leader of his divided country and said his Russian allies in the Kremlin “should and must act” to put an end to the political chaos.

“Knowing the character of (Russian President) Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, I am surprised that he is until now so restrained and silent” on the subject of intervening to bring calm to Ukraine, Yanukovich said at a news conference in southern Russia carried live nationwide on Russia-24 television.

At the packed gathering in Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovich said he had not met with Putin since being granted refuge in Russia this week after appealing to Moscow to protect him from what he termed the “nationalist and fascist thugs” who have taken power in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Yanukovich blamed the disorder and communal clashes in eastern Ukraine, in particular in the predominantly Russian-speaking region of Crimea, on Western diplomats who brokered an agreement to quell violence in Kiev last week, saying they had failed to hold the opposition forces now running the Ukrainian government to the letter of the pact. He accused European Union and U.S. diplomats of encouraging the three-month revolt against him, saying the crisis wracking the country “was not scripted in Ukraine.”

Instead of ensuring that all arms were laid down at the violent epicenter of the confrontation on Independence Square, known as Maidan, “Kiev was flooded with people carrying weapons who started breaking into houses and churches, inflicting suffering on absolutely innocent people who were robbed and beaten up,” he said. “This is going on now.”

The European Union mediators who brokered the Feb. 21 settlement after at least 82 people were killed last week failed to compel the opposition to keep to a timetable of first enacting constitutional changes, then organizing early presidential elections by the end of this year, he contended.

Yanukovich loyalists in parliament defected in droves after the deadly crackdown by special forces who fired on demonstrators. The opposition-led parliament then voted to oust Yanukovich as president, appoint former speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president, set a May 25 presidential election and disband the Berkat special police unit that had clashed with protesters.

Deputies switched their allegiance to the opposition only because their lives and those of their families were threatened, Yanukovich alleged.

“They were forced to vote in this way,” he said. “Their houses were burned. These are the realities in Kiev.”

Yanukovich sent mixed signals to the Russian-speaking community in Crimea, where ad hoc militiamen have taken up positions at the Simferopol airport, occupied the autonomous republic’s parliament and stationed roadblocks at the border between the strategic peninsula in the Black Sea and the rest of Ukrainian territory.

Crimean Russians’ fear and anger is “understandable,” Yanukovich said. But he appealed to his supporters there: “Do not allow blood to be shed or for conflict to begin. As the legitimate president of Ukraine, I think Crimea should be part of the Ukrainian state with their autonomous rights ensured.”