As if adding insult to injury, ousted Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich yesterday railed at the interim government in Kiev from the comfortable confines of his hideout in Russia. In his second press conference, the tainted Ukrainian leader warned on a civil war in the former Soviet Republic. Looking his usual unruffled-self in a dark business suit, Yanukovich insisted that he remained Ukraine’s legitimate president and commander-in-chief. On top of this, he asked the armed forces to defy ‘criminal orders’ given by the opposition in power. The ousted leader still believes he would return to Kiev, supposedly to reassume power.
Yanukovich’s assertions from the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don are surprising, but not unexpected. The dictator that he had become during his presidency allowed him to amass a huge amount of illegal wealth. He is known to have boasted to the then Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of his misadventures telling him about how corrupt his government was. He even offered to sell Georgia planes in private deals. The opulence of his palatial mansion outside Kiev was revealed by Ukrainian protesters who barged into the unbelievably rich home when Yanukovich fled Ukraine.
In a throwback to the days when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s palace was thrown open to Iraqis, Yanukovich’s gilded retreat told the whole story.
He is being shielded by Russia, which has made no secret of its plans to take over Crimea in the wake of a weak interim government ruling Kiev. The southeastern Black Sea autonomous province has traditionally been pro-Moscow with a large Russian speaking population. It joined Ukraine in 1954 as part of the Soviet Republic.
Yanukovich’s apparent confidence despite being dislodged and rendered powerless stems from his Russian masters. His about-face when the European Union was competing with the Kremlin for signing a deal with Ukraine is behind the catastrophe that has befallen the country today. While the 28-nation European Union had almost persuaded Yanukovich to sign an agreement as part of its Eastern Partnerships Programme, which would have made it smoother for Ukraine to enter EU, Putin made him do an about turn by forcing Kiev to sign the Customs Union. It is now apparent that Yanukovich must have been predisposed to go the Russian way, which would have helped him in his corrupt designs.
Now, as Putin basks in the glory of having hosted the Sochi Olympics and exults in the hope of annexing Crimea to the Russian federation, his pawn in the geostrategic game — Yanukovich — harbours false hopes of returning to Kiev and ruling from there. Either this has been done at Putin’s bidding to keep the pressure on the West, which is supporting the interim administration in Kiev, or a desperate Yanukovich is deluding himself into believing that he can do so.