A top official from the government of ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced plans to challenge the pro-EU government in Kiev from his current self-imposed exile in Russia.
At a press conference in Moscow, former Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said his new “Ukrainian Salvation Committee” would back a former lawmaker as a presidential candidate and called for early elections.
Azarov, 67, served as prime minister under President Viktor Yanukovych, who was pushed from office by popular protests in February 2014 after backing away from a deal for closer ties with the European Union and turning toward Russia. Like his former boss, Azarov enjoys little political support in Ukraine, where the new government has charged him with corruption and abuse of office. Subject to U.S. and European sanctions, both men have kept a largely low profile, living in Russia since they were forced from office.
Azarov, whose announcement Monday was featured on Russian state-run television, said he and his allies planned to mount a return to power by democratic means. Azarov endorsed Volodymir Oliynyk, a former pro-Yanukovych legislator, as the committee’s presidential candidate for early elections.
“The time of this regime has come to an end,” Azarov was shown saying live on Russia’s Rossiya-24 TV. “The main goal of our committee is to tell the truth to the people, to convey our truthful position, give them the possibility to make a decision. I am sure the victory will be with us.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Russia was behind the initiative, but indicated the Kremlin will look into the proposal.
“One has yet to study in detail the statements that have been made, analyze the situation,” Peskov told journalists on a conference call Monday.
The Russian government helped Yanukovych flee from Ukraine after his overthrow and has continued to refer to him as Ukraine’s “legitimate president” since then.