MOSCOW - Ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych still sees himself as his country's legitimate head of state, according to a statement by him published by Russian news agencies on Thursday.
Yanukovych fled his residence near the Kiev on Saturday after months of deadly protests and a deal with his opposition giving many of his powers over to parliament.
NBC News was unable to confirm a report by Russian news organization RBK that Yanukovych had been spotted in Moscow. But in his statement published by Interfax and Itar Tass, the Kremlin-backed former leader said he has asked for protection from Russia "to ensure my personal security from extremists' actions."
Interfax quoted a source as saying Russia had granted this appeal. NBC News could not immediately verify that claim.
"I still consider myself to be the legitimate leader of the Ukrainian state, elected on the basis of Ukrainian citizen’s free will," Yanukovych's statement said. "I cannot remain indifferent to tragic events in my home country. There is rampant extremism on the streets of our country. My supporters and I receive threats of inflicting bodily harm."
Yanukovych also echoed Russia's view that the new interim government in Kiev was "illegitimate," and said the agreement he signed with opposition leaders under the supervision of several European foreign ministers was "not fulfilled."
Yanukovych's statement comes amid heightening tensions between Russia and the West over the future of Ukraine.
The United States pledged a $1 bilion loan to the post-Yanukovych interim government, but separatist sentiments in the southern, Russian-speaking Crimea region were stoked by Russia commencing military drills near the border.
Yanukovych said the simmering unrest in Crimea showed that its people "do not accept anarchy and lawlessness," unlike those in Kiev "where ministers are elected by the crowd in the city square."
Alexander Smith reported from London.