Yanukovych Seen in Moscow as Protesters Seize Government Buildings in Crimea

Russian newspaper RBK reported on Thursday that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was spotted at a Moscow hotel and is currently staying at a state-run sanatorium nearby. 

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Russian newspaper RBK reported on Thursday that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was spotted at a Moscow hotel and is currently staying at a state-run sanatorium nearby. Although, his presence in Russia is still unconfirmed, the paper carried Yanukovych's plea for protection from the Kremlin. "I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists," he wrote. 

Despite fleeing, he still insists that he is still the rightful leader of Ukraine. Yanukovych continued to criticize the current interim government, saying:

I think that the agreement on the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine, signed by me and leaders of the Ukrainian opposition in the presence of respected Western partners on 21 February 2014, has not been implemented.

The BBC explains that Yanukovych was referring to an agreement for early elections brokered by EU officials. The deal was signed by opposition leaders, but was not generally accepted by demonstrators, before Yanukovych was ultimately forced out. He added that he would "fight to the end for the implementation of important compromise agreements to take Ukraine out of deep political crisis." 

According to RBK and other Russian papers, one government official and one wealthy business man confirmed the report, and security at the Ukraina Hotel in Moscow was elevated on Wednesday night. Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman didn't comment.

Arseny Yatseniuk, Right. REUTERS/Konstantin Chernichkin

Meanwhile, the situation in Ukraine continues to change rapidly. The country's interim government, put together ad hoc after Yanukovych fled his palace compound over the weekend, approved Arseniy Yatsenyuk as the new prime minister this morning. Yatsenyuk, 39, held several positions in the government before Yanukovych became president in 2010 and is supported by the U.S. He said today that Yanukovych stole $70 billion from the country over the course of three years.

In southeastern Ukraine, the Crimea province is heating up following the seizure of government buildings by pro-Russia activists. According to the Associated Press, dozens of armed gunmen took control of the buildings early Thursday morning, even raising the Russian flag over the Parliament building. (Crimea is an autonomous republic, within the larger federation of Ukraine.)

The Crimean Parliament said today that it would hold a referendum to determine the future of the region, an idea that has led to concerns that the region's heavily Russian population could force Crimea's secession, and a future annexation by Russia.

The head of parliament's press secretary said in a statement:

According to the underlying principles of democracy, the presidium of the Crimean parliament considers that the only possible way out of the situation on the ground is applying the principles of direct rule of the people. We are confident that only by holding an All-Crimean referendum on the issue of improving the status of the Autonomy and expanding its powers Crimeans will be able to determine the future of the Autonomy on their own and without any external pressure.

Tension in Crimea are not helped by Russia's surprise military drills on the border. Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov last week warned Russia to keep out of Ukrainian affairs, saying:

I am appealing to the military leadership of the Russian Black Sea fleet. Any military movements, the more so if they are with weapons, beyond the boundaries of this territory [the base] will be seen b us as military aggression.

Outside the Crimean Parliament. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Secretary of State John Kerry also implored Russia not to get involved, saying "Any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge, grave mistake." Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, on the other hand, warned those who took control of the government buildings that the situation could escalate quickly, saying "I warn those who have done this [seized buildings] and those who have facilitated it, that regional conflicts begin this way... This is a very dangerous game." 

The Guardian describes the chaotic situation in Crimea: 

The men occupying the parliament building in the regional capital, Simferopol, early on Thursday did not come out to voice any demands. They wore black and orange ribbons, a Russian symbol of the victory in World War II. The men also put up a sign saying “Crimea is Russia.” They threw a flash grenade in response to a journalist’s questions. Phone calls to region’s legislature rang unanswered, and its website was down.

Interfax news agency cited an eyewitness as saying that about 60 people were inside a government building, many of them armed. One man told Reuters that "we were building barricades in the night to protect parliament. This this young Russian guy came up with a pistol ... we all lay down, some more ran up, there was some shooting and around 50 went through the window." Two casualties were reported following rallies outside the parliament yesterday, including one person who was crushed in the surging mobs.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.