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Upheaval In Ukraine Shifts To Crimea Peninsula


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning, I'm David Greene.

Ukraine's ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, struck a defiant tone today, insisting that he intends to return to Ukraine as soon as security permits. At a press conference held in Russia he said he will not ask for military support from anyone.

VIKTOR YANUKOVYCH: Through Translator) First, I think that any military actions in this situation should not be allowed. Any actions. And I'm not going to ask for military support. I think that Ukraine should be as a single united country.

GREENE: Ukraine seems anything but united at the moment. The Russian military has been conducting maneuvers along the Ukrainian border and pro-Russian forces have taken over the parliament building and airports in the southern region of Crimea. Meanwhile, Yanukovych's opponents have installed a new acting government in Kiev, which is where we've reached NPR's Peter Kenyon. And Peter, what is Yanukovych's next move now?

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, that is quite a mystery, David. He says when he has the opportunity - that is when his safety is assure, as well as that of his family and guaranteed he claimed at one point by the West - then he will return to Ukraine. He also says, just as Russia has said, that the solution to Ukraine's crisis is the agreement he signed on February 21st. He, in particular, blamed the West for it's lack of implementation; blaming France and Poland and Germany, who were supposed to mediate the agreement. But he says it's not too late to change direction.

GREENE: Well, let's talk about that agreement. I mean just before he fled Ukraine - Yanukovych - he signed this agreement with the opposition on power sharing with opposition leaders, setting new elections in coming months. Did he explain why he fled shortly after he signed that?

KENYON: Well, that's a word he doesn't use. He claims he didn't flee. He says he had no fear, but then he went on to say it was issue of safety and he doesn't make the security rules. He told a rather elaborate tale of going to a conference by helicopter in the dead of night out near the border and being ordered by air traffic control to turn back. Then he traveled by car to Crimea, he spoke of further warnings of violence, he heard of MP's being threatened. His family, he says, was threatened. And so he doesn't explain much of what happened when he crossed into Russia except to say to that he got through thanks to what he called the officers who were patriotically minded - without elaborating.

So, in his mind, he didn't flee. He's still the president but he's not coming back till things are safe.

GREENE: So we don't know if those were officers from Russia or who he was talking about exactly, who let him cross the border.

KENYON: Exactly. He didn't specify.

GREENE: Well, Peter, I mean, if he does intend, at some point, to go back to Kiev and sort of resurrect this agreement with the opposition, what do you expect the reaction to be from his opponents in the capital?

KENYON: I think that he would not be welcome at the moment in Kiev, or in much of Ukraine, for that matter. It's very hard to see the opposition now moving ahead, hoping to receive the IMF, trying to get the country back on a viable if not stable economic footing, returning to this agreement that would leave Mr. Yanukovych in power through December in a much longer time frame. And I think that his plan will be a non-starter in Kiev. The question is how will things play out from here? And if this plan doesn't come to any fruition, what will his next action be? At the moment, there's a big sigh of relief because he wants the country to remain united and he's not asking Russia for military help.

GREENE: We've been speaking with NPR's Peter Kenyon in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. Peter, thanks a lot.

KENYON: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.