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March 11, 2014

Yanukovych Insists He's Still Ukraine's Leader

by Michael Eckels

Referring to the forces that ousted him from office as "ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists", deposed president Viktor Yanukovych insists he remains Ukraine's sole legitimate leader and vowed to return to Kyiv soon.

In his second public appearance since fleeing to Russia in late February, Yanukovych accused his opponents of working to put the country's army "under the banner of Bandera and start a civil war," a reference to a controversial World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist leader with ties to the Nazis.

The massive click-clack sound from press photographers forced a smile on Yanukovych's face as he entered the conference hall. Eight minutes later, he turned and left, without taking questions.
 
Yanukovych also criticized the United States for promising monetary aid to Ukraine's new government, and said he would appeal to the U.S. Congress, Senate, and Supreme Court to assess the legality of giving such aid, insisting U.S. laws prohibit giving money to "bandits."

Yanukovych has been dismissed as a "political corpse" by Russian President Vladimir Putin and, in Ukraine, there is a warrant for his arrest on charges of mass murder.

Referendum

Crimea is moving ahead with plans to hold a referendum on unification with Russia. However, Ukraine's parliament warned Tuesday that the Crimean Assembly faces dissolution unless the March 16 referendum is called off by Wednesday.

Crimea has closed its airspace to commercial flights but allowed several planes from Moscow to land, Reuters reported, five days ahead of  the referendum which the government in Kyiv and its Western backers say is illegal.

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Germany's foreign minister said the European Union will act if the Crimea vote goes forward as planned but didn't specify what possible measures the EU would take.

Russia's foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry exchanged opinions on Tuesday "about concrete proposals by Russia and the United States to ensure civil peace and concord''. The ministry's statement said the two would continue to talk.

The State Department said Kerry told Lavrov it is unacceptable for Russian forces to continue to take matters into their own hands in Ukraine.

Meantime, after repeatedly being denied entry to Crimea, an unarmed OSCE military observer mission is scheduled to visit other parts of Ukraine, including Kyiv, soon.

France warns Russia about sanctions

​​French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio Tuesday the West could impose sanctions against Russia as early as this week if Moscow does not respond positively to proposals to calm the crisis in Crimea.

Russia and the West are locked in a tense standoff over pro-Russian forces' seizure of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula. The crisis in Crimea began late last month after former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fled Kyiv following months of anti-government protests.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has complained that the U.S. proposals amount to "moving forward on the basis of a situation born out of a state coup."

The situation is further complicated by the Crimea region's plans to hold a March 16 referendum on joining Russia -- a vote Fabius and other Western leaders have called "illegal."

US stance

​​U.S. President Barack Obama will meet Ukraine's interim prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, at the White House on Wednesday. A White House statement said the visit will highlight the United States' strong support for the people of Ukraine, and will include talks on economic aid and preparations for May elections in Ukraine.

In Kyiv Monday, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt reiterated that Washington will not recognize the results of the Crimean referendum.

NATO said Monday it is deploying reconnaissance aircraft along the borders of member states Poland and Romania to monitor the crisis in Ukraine. It said the deployment is designed "to enhance the alliance's situational awareness." The U.S. has also initiated a new deployment of fighter jets to the region.

Moscow has officially denied that its troops are participating in the occupation of Crimea, but witnesses say military personnel in unmarked uniforms arrived in Russian-registered vehicles earlier this month and freely admit to being Russian.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters.