Russia obliged to offer unloved Yanukovych sanctuary: analysts

27th February 2014, Comments 0 comments

Russia had little option other than to offer sanctuary to deposed Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, even if there is little love lost between him and President Vladimir Putin, analysts said Thursday.

Yanukovych is now widely believed to be in Russia after he released a statement saying he had asked Moscow to ensure his security and sources in the country said his wish had been satisfied on "Russian territory".

Here are the fundamental questions about why and how he has come to Russia:

--Why has Russia offered sanctuary to Yanukovych?

The deposed president was long seen as the representative of pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. Now he has been defeated by pro-EU and anti-Kremlin forces who have formed a new government, Russia feels itself obliged to help him, whether it admires Yanukovych or not.

"Where else could he go?" said Alexander Konovalov, president of the Moscow Institute of Strategic Assessments. "As they say, he is 'a son of a bitch but our son of a bitch'," he said, referring to a famous remark attributed to US president Franklin D. Roosevelt about a Latin American dictator.

--Does Russia have good relations with Yanukovych?

Despite his pro-Russian inclinations, Yanukovych by no means had smooth relations with the Kremlin and Putin. Reports have said that the Russian strongman regarded him as an unreliable partner and personal relations were also said to be dire. When Yanukovych came to Russia for the opening ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, he was granted only the briefest of meetings with Putin.

"Yanukovych completely failed to justify Putin's hopes," said Konovalov. Pro-Kremlin analyst Dmitry Orlov said that Yanukovych was notorious for sudden changes of mind. "He does not respect the accords that he signs."

Whether Yanukovych's presence in Russia can be politically useful to Russia remains to be seen and he may prove a burden who needlessly adds another issue to relations with the West.

"Yanukovych, like any cowardly dictator who has fled, has no interest for Russia. But Russia clearly believes it impossible to deny him asylum," said Boris Makarenko, head of the Centre for Political Technologies.

--How did Yanukovych get to Russia?

It is still far from clear. Ukraine issued an arrest warrant for him and border guards were instructed to stop him leaving. Most likely he was evacuated out of Kiev by helicopter at the weekend and taken to pro-Russia Crimea, where Russia has its Black Sea naval base in the city of Sevastopol. He could then have inconspicuously travelled by boat onto Russian territory proper.

"I think he came from Sevastopol on a vessel," said Konovalov.

From Russia's Black Sea coast he could have moved on anywhere in the country. Unconfirmed reports had sighted him at a Moscow hotel or an out-of-town health spa.

However Russian news agencies said late Thursday he will give a news conference Friday in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don which lies close to the Black Sea, making it unlikely that he has been to Moscow.

--What next for Yanukovych?

Despite his claim he is still Ukrainian president, Yanukovych appears to be already political toast in his own country after fleeing. "The situation shows that in Ukraine there are no forces that support him," said Maria Lipman of the Carnegie Centre.

He could quietly live out his life in Russia, which is accustomed to offering sanctuary to the likes of deposed Kyrgyz ex-president Askar Akayev or members of the family of Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic.

Or he may be able to further Russian interests in Crimea, the one Ukrainian region which appears outright hostile to the new authorities and has long shown separatist tendencies.

"The appearance of Yanukovych shows that Russia is beginning the game for Crimea," said Yury Korgunyuk of the Indem think tank. "Yanukovych is the puppet who can be used to take control of Crimea."

© 2014 AFP

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