Ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich insisted Tuesday he remained Ukraine's legitimate president and commander-in-chief, saying he would return to Kiev and appeal to the armed forces to defy any "criminal orders" handed down by his foes.
In a defiant statement delivered in Russia, where he fled last month, Yanukovich attacked what he called the "band of ultra nationalists and neo-fascists" that have replaced his government, and criticised their Western backers.
"I want to ask the patrons of these dark forces in the West: Have you gone blind? Have you forgotten what fascism is?" Yanukovich told reporters in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don in his second such appearance since his overthrow on Feb. 22.
"I am certain the officers and soldiers of Ukraine ... know what you are worth and will not carry out your criminal orders," said Yanukovich, who claims opposition forces shot police and civilians during protests against his rule last month.
Yanukovich said a May 25 presidential election would be "illegal and illegitimate" and vowed to return to Kiev "as soon as circumstances allow".
"I'm sure the wait will not be long," he said.
He made his remarks after Ukraine's acting president told parliament of plans to raise a new national guard to protect against internal and external threats. Russia has taken control of Ukraine's Crimea region and threatened to invade the country if it deems it necessary to protect its citizens there.
The Crimean parliament voted Tuesday that the Black Sea peninsula will declare itself an independent state if its residents agree to split off from Ukraine and join Russia in a referendum on Sunday.
Yanukovich said Crimea was "breaking off" from Ukraine and blamed his foes.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who will fly to Washington to meet with President Barack Obama on Wednesday, called on Western nations to defend Ukraine against a nation "that is armed to the teeth and that has nuclear weapons."
With events in Ukraine in mind, Poland's President Bronislaw Komorowski said Tuesday he would like more U.S. troops in the country to guarantee its security within NATO, which Poland joined 15 years ago this week.
—By Reuters with The Associated Press.