The Kremlin's Yanukovych options

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (left) with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow, 17 December Image copyright AFP
Image caption Viktor Yanukovych (left) was in Moscow in December to clinch a credit agreement with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin

The news that Viktor Yanukovych has resurfaced in Russia seems very significant.

Not only has he apparently been given sanctuary by the Russian authorities, but they have allowed a statement on his behalf to be read out on Russian TV and distributed by all Russia's main news agencies, in which he officially declares himself still president of Ukraine and denounces the new government in Kiev as "extremist" and the parliament as illegitimate.

It is not quite clear why the Russian government has offered him protection or decided to give him this very public platform to mount a direct challenge to Ukraine's new authorities.

Up until now, even many of Mr Yanukovych's former supporters in Ukraine and many Russian parliamentarians in Moscow were blaming Mr Yanukovych's failed leadership as the main reason for Ukraine's troubles.

It seemed unlikely the Russian government would want to carry on associating itself with him. One senior Russian MP even declared publicly on Wednesday that he thought it was highly unlikely that Russia would grant him sanctuary, stressing the importance of maintaining relations with Ukraine.

So will the Kremlin now align itself with, or distance itself from, Mr Yanukovych's statement?

The Kremlin too has been critical of Kiev's new government, questioned its legitimacy and warned of threats to Russia's interests in Ukraine. Just this morning the Russian foreign ministry issued a new warning that it would "strongly and uncompromisingly" defend the rights of its compatriots when they were violated by foreign governments.

It could be this is just another example - alongside the fighter jets now on combat alert, patrolling Russia's borders with Ukraine - of sabre-rattling, another way to increase pressure on the new Kiev authorities to register Russia's concerns and ambivalence.

What would be more worrying is if this is part of a carefully co-ordinated campaign which is also somehow linked to the move by pro-Russian armed groups who took over the Crimean parliament and government buildings in Simferopol overnight.

There is no evidence that Moscow knew about or sanctioned that action, but the fact it has happened just as Mr Yanukovych has resurfaced, and been allowed to challenge Kiev from Moscow is unsettling.

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