Deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych landed at a military airport in southern Russia late on Thursday escorted by fighter jets, a local news agency has reported.
Yanukovych, whose whereabouts have since his ouster been subject of feverish speculation, is scheduled to hold a news conference in the southwestern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don at 5 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) on Friday.
“The plane with the embattled president onboard was escorted by several fighter jets. The boom of supersonic engines was heard for half an hour in the northwestern part of the city, where the airport is located,” local news agency DonInformBuro reported.
Yanukovych is staying at private premises in Rostov-on-Don, instead of a government residence for top officials, and no additional security forces have been deployed, the agency reported citing its own sources.
Yanukovych, whom Ukraine put on an international wanted list on mass murder charges, said in a statement Thursday he was still the legitimate president of his country and that he had been forced to ask Russia to ensure his personal security from “extremists.”
Anonymous government sources in Moscow said Thursday that Russia had accepted Yanukovych’s request for security.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin ordered the government Thursday to hold consultations with international partners, including the International Monetary Fund, to provide financial assistance to Ukraine and develop a humanitarian aid package to Crimea.
“Putin instructed the Russian government to continue contacts with partners in Kiev regarding the development of trade and economic ties between Russia and Ukraine”, Peskov said.
The toppling of Yanukovych’s government at the weekend has provoked a wave of pro-Russian rallies in the southern and eastern parts of Ukraine, particularly in the Crimean Peninsula, where ethnic Russians are in a majority.
A purported decree by Yanukovych mandating that the country’s leadership and law enforcement agencies be transferred to the port city of Sevastopol in Crimea was read out before pro-Russian protesters gathered outside the peninsula’s parliament building in the town of Simferopol on Thursday.
Sources close to Yanukovych have said, however, that they consider the decree distributed via the Internet to be fake.
The Crimean parliament voted Thursday to approve Serhiy Aksenov, leader of the Russian Unity party, as head of the region’s government. The new prime minister immediately pledged allegiance to Yanukovych, saying that he still considered him Ukraine’s legitimate head of state.
On Thursday evening, the parliament resolved to hold the referendum giving Crimea greater autonomy on May 25.
Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, when it was transferred to the Ukrainian republic within the Soviet Union. Russia has a large naval base on the peninsula on which it recently extended a lease until 2042.
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