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Published in Stream:
Day 743: March 1, 2016
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Ukraine's Ousted President Says He Wants To Return. Here's Why We Should Care
6 years
The Daily Vertical: The Gun To Ukraine’s Head
Heavy Fighting Reported In Donetsk Area This Afternoon

Two years ago last month, then-President Viktor Yanukovych fled his office and official residence to Rostov-on-Don, a restive town in southern Russia. Surveillance cameras showed Yanukovych and his allies grabbing valuables and suitcases full of potentially incriminating documents in the early morning hours of February 22, 2014, as the fires of Maidan Square burned low after his Berkut riot police failed to destroy the protest camps after nearly four full days of battle.

Months later, when elections were held, Yanukovych's party was soundly trounced. There simply was very little appetite left in even eastern Ukraine for the party of Yanukovych.

Ukraine's ousted president has been relatively quiet since he left, but today he has reiterated that he still considers himself the legitimate president of Ukraine, and plans on returning to his home country. RFE/RL reports:

Speaking in an interview with the Glavkom newspaper, lawyer Vitaly Sergyuk said Yanukovych intends “to return to Ukraine” from his exile in Russia and that “legal steps will be taken for this.”

Sergyuk maintains that Yanukovych did not relieve himself of his duties as president and opt out of ruling Ukraine.

The lawyer also maintains that the procedure to dismiss Yanukovych from office violated Ukraine’s constitution.

If Yanukovych were to return to Ukraine now, however, he would likely be arrested and prosecuted, so why is this important?

It's important because Russia maintains that the current Ukrainian government was installed by a foreign coup, orchestrated by the United States. Russia has also repeatedly said that the current Ukrainian government is a threat to regional security, and since February 2014 Russia has also maintained that they have the right to protect ethnic Russians living beyond its borders. If Russia is looking for a way to legitimize its intervention in Ukraine, it may need Yanukovych's support to do so.

Does this mean that Russia is planning on installing a new government in Kiev soon? Russia has not yet made any moves to make that happen. But in 2014 Russia did invade, through hybrid warfare, eastern Ukraine. We are currently seeing an upswell in violence in eastern Ukraine, and Russian involvement in the violence there appears to be on the rise. The Kremlin would also rejoice if the current Ukrainian government collapsed, and convincing European governments that are increasingly pro-Russian to abandon their support for Ukraine appears to be one of Russia's missions in the diplomatic sphere.

Russia could also easily choice other Ukrainian expatriates, like former Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, to lead a kind of government in exile, if they wanted to take this route. 

-- James Miller