ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (Reuters) - Ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich insisted on Tuesday that he remained Ukraine’s legitimate president and commander-in-chief, saying he would return to Kiev and appealing to the armed forces to defy any “criminal orders” handed down by his foes.
In a defiant statement delivered in Russia, to where he fled last month, Yanukovich attacked what he called the “band of ultranationalists and neo-fascists” that have replaced his government, and criticised their Western backers.
“I want to ask the patrons of these dark forces in the West: Have you gone blind? Have you forgotten what fascism is?” Yanukovich told reporters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don in his second such appearance since his overthrow on February 22.
“I am certain the officers and soldiers of Ukraine...know what you are worth and will not carry out your criminal orders,” said Yanukovich, who claims opposition forces shot police and civilians during protests against his rule last month.
Yanukovich said a May 25 presidential election would be “illegal and illegitimate” and said he would return to Kiev “as soon as circumstances allow”.
“I‘m sure the wait will not be long,” he said.
His made his remarks after Ukraine’s acting president told parliament of plans to raise a new national guard to protect against internal and external threats. Russia has taken control of Ukraine’s Crimea region and threatened to invade the country if it deems it necessary to protect its citizens there.
Yanukovich said Crimea was “breaking off” from Ukraine and blamed his foes. Pro-Russian forces that have taken over the Crimean government plan to stage a referendum on Sunday on joining Russia.
reporting by Denis Pinchuk, writing by Steve Gutterman and Elizabeth Piper, editing by Steve Gutterman and Angus MacSwan