MOSCOW — As Russia tightened its grip on Crimea, Ukraine’s ousted president appealed Tuesday to the country’s military units to refuse to follow the orders of the new interim authorities, declaring that he remained commander in chief and would return to the country as soon as conditions permitted.
Appearing in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don for the first time since the scale of Russia’s intervention in Crimea became evident, Viktor Yanukovych denounced the West for rushing to recognize and to provide financial assistance to a government he said was a junta.
“You do not have any legal grounds to provide financial assistance to these bandits,” Yanukovych said, specifically questioning a $1 billion pledge from the United States to Ukraine. He cited a US law prohibiting aid to governments that take power in a coup.
Yanukovych’s claims to political legitimacy at home — though supported by few in Ukraine or even in Russia — did little to suggest that a negotiated political solution to the crisis in Ukraine would be found soon.
Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who was elected interim prime minister of Ukraine after the Parliament stripped Yanukovych of his powers, is scheduled to meet President Obama in the White House on Wednesday, a hugely symbolic gesture of support that underscores how divisive an issue Ukraine’s fate has become between the United States and Russia.
Yatsenyuk told Parliament on Tuesday that Russia’s leaders had refused to speak to him by telephone for the past five days.
“I am ready to talk to the Russians,” he said, according to the Interfax news agency, “but the Russians probably have other problems.”
In Simferopol, the Crimean capital, the regional Parliament adopted a resolution declaring that Crimea would become an independent state if the results of a public referendum to be held on Sunday show a majority of voters want to join Russia.
The pro-Russian regional authorities in Crimea also appeared to sever other links to Ukraine’s capital, canceling incoming flights from Kiev, including one that was turned around after taking off on Tuesday morning. Flights to and from Turkey also were suspended, though Aeroflot flights to Moscow continued.
The Ukrainian government in Kiev has said that the Crimean Parliament is acting illegally and should be disbanded, and the Crimean Constitution itself declares Crimea to be an integral part of Ukraine. Amendments to the Crimean Constitution require approval not only of the Crimean Parliament but also the national Ukrainian Parliament.
The resolution adopted in Simferopol on Tuesday made no reference to the Crimean Constitution but instead cited the United Nations Charter “and many other international instruments recognizing the right of peoples to self-determination.” It also cited a ruling by the International Court of Justice in July 2010 that supported Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008.
Diplomatic efforts between Russia and the United States appear stalled, even as the two sides continued to begin military exercises or maneuvers and to exchange threats of economic and diplomatic retaliation. A spokesman for Russia’s airborne troops announced a new training exercise of 3,500 paratroopers based in Ivanovo, northwest of Moscow, Interfax reported.
Yanukovych has mostly remained in hiding since he fled Ukraine, and his public role in the conflict has been so marginalized that he began his remarks by dismissing rumors of his ill health and even death.
“I am alive,” he said, going on to dispute the legality of the actions the Parliament took after a European-brokered agreement on Feb. 21 collapsed. “And I have not been impeached, according to the Ukrainian Constitution.”
He appeared in the same conference room at a shopping mall in Rostov where he held a news conference on Feb. 28, the day before President Vladimir V. Putin requested and received authorization from the upper house of the Russian Parliament to use military force in Ukraine.
Since then, Russian forces, backing self-defense militias, have effectively seized control of Crimea.
Secretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov on Tuesday, US and Russian officials reported. But the conversation did not appear to narrow the gap between their positions.
Kerry said during the call that he was still prepared to meet with Lavrov, including this week, but the goal needed to be how to protect the sovereignty of Ukraine, said Jen Psaki, the State Department spokeswoman.
“We respect Russian interests, and we have said all along that we respect the fact that Russia has interests particularly in Crimea,” said Psaki, summarizing Kerry’s position. “But those interests in no way justify military intervention or the use of force.”
On Saturday, the State Department sent Lavrov a series of questions that were intended to probe whether the Kremlin was receptive to the US proposals for addressing the crisis. On Monday night, the Russians responded, Psaki said, but the answers did not signal a shift.
“They largely restate positions that we heard in Paris and Rome,” Psaki said, referring to Kerry’s meetings in Europe with Lavrov last week.