MOSCOW (AP) — Ukraine's fugitive president may be enjoying VIP treatment under Moscow's protection, said to have been spotted at an opulent five-star hotel and a Kremlin country retreat. But beneath the surface, the embrace has been chilly: State-run TV has portrayed him as a coward who betrayed those who stood by him.
The conflicting messages indicate that while Russia still considers him the legitimate president of Ukraine, it is far from happy with his handling of Ukraine's crisis.
Yanukovych made his appeal for protection in a written statement released simultaneously by two Russian state news agencies: "I have to ask Russia to ensure my personal safety from extremists," he wrote. Shortly afterward, the same agencies quoted an unidentified government official as saying that the request had been "satisfied on the territory of Russia." The ITAR-Tass and RIA Novosti news agencies often are used by the government to issue official statements.
With President Vladimir Putin largely silent, the Kremlin's tone on Ukraine has been set by Russian state television, which has denigrated the Ukrainian leader for failing to stand up to the protesters and taking flight, betraying those who stood by him.
Dmitry Trenin of the Carnegie Moscow Center said the descriptions of Yanukovych in state media leave little doubt how he's seen by Moscow.
"I think he simply failed in expectations that had been placed on him at the time that Putin was giving him large amounts of financial support, of which $3 billion are in danger of being never returned to Russia," Trenin said in a conference call with journalists.
"The relationship between Putin and Yanukovych is well-known to have been a very bad one, with the Russian leader not having much respect for his Ukrainian counterpart," the political scholar said. "So I think that they will give him protection, but he is not going to be an active element in any Russian strategy vis-a-vis Ukraine in the near future."
Since he was driven out of Ukraine's capital nearly a week ago after three months of protests, Yanukovych had been on the run.
His last public appearance was Saturday in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, where he declared in a video address that he was still president and would not leave the country.
The opposition leaders who suddenly found themselves in charge of the country, however, said Yanukovych then promptly tried to fly out from Donetsk, also in eastern Ukraine, but was stopped by the border service. He then showed up on the Crimean Peninsula, where Russia has a naval base, according to the acting interior minister, who said Yanukovych and his remaining loyal guards were last seen driving away in three cars early Monday.
Yanukovych arrived in Moscow early Tuesday and checked into the Hotel Ukraina, according to the reliable RBK business daily, which said the information initially came from one of Russia's wealthy businessmen and was confirmed by a government official.