Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Friday spoke in Russia for the first time since fleeing Kiev, as armed men wearing military uniforms took control of two airports in the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea, further complicating the interim government’s ability to rule.
Appearing in the Russian city of Rostov-on-Don, Yanukovich said that he was forced to leave the country but that "no one has removed me" from office. He also announced his intention to "fight for the future of Ukraine."
Referring to protesters that led to his downfall as "nationalists" and "fascists," he called the ongoing political crisis in Ukraine an "irresponsible policy of the West."
Russian President Vladimir Putin has not said whether Moscow will harbor the former leader, who is wanted by Ukraine's new government for "mass murder" after the deaths of protesters in Kiev last week.
As Yanukovich spoke, men dressed in full battle gear and carrying assault rifles and machine guns were moving freely about two airports in Crimea.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov wrote in a Facebook post that the Belbek international airport in Sevastopol was blocked by military units of the Russian navy.
"I can only describe this as a military invasion and occupation," Avakov said Friday.
But Russia's Black Sea fleet, which is based in the region, denied its forces were involved in seizing one of the airports, Interfax news agency reported.
"No Black Sea Fleet units have moved toward (the airport), let alone taking any part in blockading it," Interfax quoted a spokesman for the fleet as saying.
Witnesses at the second airport in Simferopol described the armed group as Crimean militiamen.
A man called Vladimir, who said he was a volunteer helping the group, said, "I'm with the People's Militia of Crimea. We're simple people, volunteers ... We're here at the airport to maintain order. We'll meet the planes with a nice smile. The airport is working as normal."