Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (Andrei Mosienko / AP)
Rostov-on-Don, Russia — Making his first public appearance since fleeing Ukraine, fugitive Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych pledged Friday to fight for his country’s future but said he will not ask for military assistance.
“I intend to keep fighting for the future of Ukraine,” he told a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don. Yanukovych had not been seen since Saturday as he lost his grip on power.
Yanukovych said he supports Crimea’s residents who are worried about “nationalists” in Kiev and added that Russia cannot stand by while events in Ukraine unfolded. He denied, however, that this amounted to a call for military intervention.
“Any military action in this situation is unacceptable,” he said.
Yanukovych spoke in Russian during the press conference. A native Russian speaker, he would speak publicly in Ukrainian in Kiev — although sometimes respond in Russian if asked a question in his mother tongue.
Yanukovych insisted he “did not flee anywhere” but left for the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. He said he was “forced” to leave the country when he was in Crimea after his family received threats. Asked how he managed to get to Russia, the fugitive president said he got out “thanks to patriotic officers who did their duty and helped me to save my life.”
The fugitive president mentioned that he came to Rostov-on-Don, a city in Russia’s south, to seek temporary shelter from an “old friend.”
Yanukovych said he had not met Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia but talked with him on the phone, adding that he hopes the Russian leader will find time to see him.
The Ukrainian president lambasted the West for allegedly betraying a Feb. 21 compromise agreement between the government and the opposition, saying that recent actions by the opposition run counter to the EU-brokered pact.
Yanukovych dismissed reports of opulence at a villa outside Kiev, calling them “pretty pictures” and pledging to prove in court that the residence did not belong to him.
Meanwhile, a top Ukrainian security official said two airports in Crimea were under Ukrainian control despite attempts by gunmen to “seize” them.
Ukraine’s Interior Minister said earlier Friday that Russian navy troops were blocking access to the airports in Simferopol and Sevastopol, describing it as a “military invasion and occupation.”
But Ukraine’s Security Council Chief Andriy Parubiy insisted later that the airports were still under Ukrainian control, according to the Interfax news agency.
Authorities in Switzerland and Austria, meanwhile, moved Friday to block any assets that Yanukovych and his son Aleksander, might have hidden in the Alpine nations, while the Swiss launched a corruption investigation against them.
Switzerland’s governing Federal Council, which includes the president and six other ministers, announced its decision to block all assets Yanukovych and his entourage might have in Switzerland, effective immediately.
Through the action, the council said in a statement that it “wishes to avoid any risk of misappropriation of Ukrainian state assets.”
Austria said it is freezing any bank accounts it finds for Yanukovych, his son, and 16 others linked to Ukraine’s former government.
Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Weiss says the move is meant to ensure that no money is withdrawn from their accounts pending an EU-wide decision on whether Yanukovych and his closest associates should be put under financial and other sanctions.
Weiss did not name all of those affected, and said he could not speculate on how many on the list of 18 had accounts in Austria and how much money was involved.
In a separate move, the Geneva prosecutors’ office released a statement that it has opened a criminal investigation concerned with “aggravated money laundering.” Documents were seized, but the prosecutor said no further details of the investigation would be provided.
Switzerland has been at pains to prevent foreign leaders from using the country’s secretive banks as places to hide and launder ill-gotten funds.
In recent years, Swiss authorities have frozen accounts linked to former members of the deposed governments in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.