If Marx, riffing on Hegel, is right that all world-historical persons appear twice — first as tragedy, again as farce — then on Friday ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych claimed his place among the world’s pantheon of delusional and deranged deposed strongmen.
Just last week, Yanukovych established himself as one of the more tragic figures in his country’s history, when a brutal crackdown turned from simply violent to downright murderous and security forces opened fire on protesters in Kiev, killing more than 80. And we didn’t have to wait long for Yanukovych to make it from tragedy to farce. In a press conference Friday in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, about 125 miles from the Ukrainian border, Yanukovych emerged from hiding and delivered a scathing denunciation of his enemies in Kiev, the revolutionaries who have stripped him of power and proceeded to roll back his government.
Over the course of a rambling conversation with the assembled media, Yanukovych argued that he remains the legitimate leader of Ukraine and that he has been deposed in "a bandit coup" carried out by "a handful radicals."
"It is time for me to say that I’m going to continue fighting for Ukraine’s future against those who try to conquer it with fear and terror. I was forced to leave Ukraine because of an immediate threat to my life and the lives of people close to me," Yanukovych said. "The power was taken in Ukraine by pro-nationalist youths, who represent an absolute minority. As you know, Ukraine was seized by pro-fascist activists."
That’s what’s called throwing the kitchen sink at your opponents, and Yanukovych now bears all the hallmarks of a leader whose political career is all but over. He has been denounced by his own party and largely abandoned by his patron in Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Events in Ukraine have now largely overtaken Yanukovych, and the crisis’ central flashpoint has shifted to the Crimean peninsula, where soldiers — reportedly belonging to the Russian equivalent of Blackwater — have deployed to secure the airports near Sevastopol and Simferopol. Gunmen have also seized the regional parliament, which has voted to hold a referendum on whether the region will break off from Kiev.
Ukraine’s acting president, Oleksander Turchinov, sharply criticized the moves by forces that he believes are acting on the behest of Russia to provoke a war. "Russia has sent forces into Crimea … they are working on scenarios which are fully analogous with Abkhazia, when having initiated a military conflict, they started to annex the territory," he said, referring to the breakaway Georgian provinces Russian forces moved to protect during the 2008 invasion of that country.
Despite the stirrings of a conflict that could result in the breakup of Ukraine, Yanukovych is still clinging to the notion that he remains a crucial player in the drama.
For a portrait of a deluded autocrat on the run, just have a look at these snippets from Yanukovych’s press conference. (The transcript, courtesy of the Kyiv Post, is available here.)
His car was shot at as he escaped
Q: Are you ashamed of anything?
"I would like to say sorry to the veterans, to the Ukrainian people that I did not have the power to stop the chaos that is happening in Ukraine right now. First of all, I have to say I did not run, I moved from Kyiv to the city of Kharkiv. During my move I was shot at from automatic weapons. The car that covered me was effectively shot at from all sides."
He doesn’t understand why Putin has remained so silent
Q: What is the role of Russia in this conflict?
"I think Ukraine [Editor’s Note: He obviously meant to say Russia] is our strategic partner. The agreements between Ukraine and Russia, within the framework of those agreements Russia has a right to act. I think Russia must act, and knowing the character of Vladimir Vladimorich Putin, I am surprised that he is so restrained and silent. Those agreements we have with Russia, Russia has a right to act."
That fancy house of his? He doesn’t really own it
"There was an offer to buy it. I paid. That house was too old, I had to repair it. Then there was a decision for me to buy it. I paid $3,200,000. The rest does not belong to me. Part of the premises i rented to fulfill my duties as a president. This is a campaign to discredit. I have never had any property. I have never had any foreign account. There are real owners, you will hear from them, and international lawyers will be going to court, because this property is not under Ukrainian ownership."
He never gave the order to shoot
"I never gave orders to shoot. As you know the police were not armed until the last moment when they were attacked. And as you know they protect themselves with arms under the law. I am remembering 2004, when the situation was similar, when my supporters arrived to the railway station, around 40 000 people, and on Maidan there were so-called Orange Revolution people. I went to the train station, and stopped people from bloodshed.
"I told them your mothers, your wives will never forgive you if there are deaths and if there is bloodshed."
He plans to return to Kiev
Q: Are you going to continue your political career? How are you going to fight for Ukraine?
"As soon as I have a real opportunity and conditions are created and guarantees of my security, including from international mediators, I will immediately go to Ukraine. I can see the way to regulate the crisis.
"Primarily it’s the agreement that was signed and not fulfilled on one side. The non-fulfillment of this agreement is fully to blame on the West, hich sent envoys, agreed on all conditions, and discussed all clases at the council that gathered on that day in Brussels.
"I don’t think there is a single person in this hall who would derive pleasure from what’a going on in Kyiv. You understand my condition and the condition of my like-minded people and the people who suffer as a result of terror and chaos in the country. I have addressed and would like to address again all participants."
For the curious, here’s the full video of his press conference: