Viktor Yanukovych: The former Ukrainian president who is tipped to replace Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Moscow’s backing

The 72-year-old served as president of Kyiv in 2010 but was overthrown after violent protests hit the country in 2014

FP Explainers March 03, 2022 09:33:31 IST
Viktor Yanukovych: The former Ukrainian president who is tipped to replace Volodymyr Zelenskyy with Moscow’s backing

File image of Russia's president Vladimir Putin with Ukrainian's Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych has been accused of being pro-Russian and sharing close ties with the Russian president. AFP

As Kherson becomes the first city in Ukraine to fall to Russian troops, a question that all seem to be asking is what happens if Vladimir Putin’s troops do takeover Ukraine.

Many are speculating what the Russian strongman’s end game is here; to occupy Ukraine indefinitely or to install a pro-Russian government in place.

Follow all LIVE updates on the Russia-Ukraine conflict here

A Ukrainian news website, Ukrayinska Pravda, reported that Russian president Vladimir Putin is preparing to place former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych back in power if his troops succeed in taking Kyiv and removing the country's current democratically elected leadership.

According to the Ukrayinska Pravda, an intelligence official had said that Yanukovych, who had fled Ukraine, is currently based in Belarus and waiting for Russian troops to take Kyiv for Putin to make the official announcement.

Also read: Piercing the fog of war: What’s happening in Ukraine and how Vladimir Putin’s campaign is shaping up

Who is Viktor Yanukovych?

Viktor Yanukovych, Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, served as prime minister (2002–05, 2006–07) and president (2010–14) of Ukraine.

Yanukovych was born to a poor family in Donetsk Oblast, in the heavily Russian-speaking region of Donbas. He was a trucking and transportation company manager before being appointed vice head and then head of the Donetsk Oblast regional government in 1996 and 1997.

He was ousted from power in 2014 following a series of violent clashes between protesters, riot police and shooters in Kyiv during the Maidan Revolution in 2014.

The protests, which began in November 2013, were a response to Yanukovych's refusal to sign a political and trade agreement with the European Union {EU}.

Yanukovych fled to Russia after the protests in which more than 100 people died.

At the time, Vladimir Putin told BBC in a report, "I will say it openly - he asked to be driven away to Russia, which we did."

Months after he fled, the Ukrainian parliament issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him reponsible for 'the mass killing of civilians'. In January of 2019, a Ukrainian court found him guilty of treason for his efforts to crush the 2014 pro-western demonstrations that eventually toppled his government.

Yanukovych was also charged with asking Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops to invade Ukraine after he had fled the country.

During his presidency, Yanukovych was also accused of 'regional cronyism' when he appointed officials from the Donbass region to important positions in the police, judiciary and tax services.

Interestingly, during his rule, his son — Oleksandr Yanukovych — also emerged to become one of the richest men in Ukraine.

Viktor Yanukovych was also accused by Ukrainian officials of misappropriating funds from Ukraine's treasury. Then Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk claimed that treasury funds of up to $70 billion were transferred to foreign accounts during Yanukovych's presidency. Following up on the allegations, authorities in Switzerland, Austria, and Liechtenstein had moved to freeze assets and accounts linked to Yanukovych’s family, and prosecutors in Geneva opened a money-laundering investigation.

Yanukovych has always shown a pro-Russian bent and following his seeking refuge in Russia in 2014, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported that Yanukovych had obtained Russian citizenship.

The news report stated that Ukrainian interior minister's aide Anton Herashchenko wrote on Facebook on 3 October 2014 that President Vladimir Putin had signed a "secret decree" granting Russian citizenship to Yanukovych.

While in power, Yanukovych enjoyed strong support from Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the east of the country. His supporters often pointed out that the Donetsk Oblast secured unprecedented levels of investment during his time in office.

Now, only time will tell if Yanukovych does become the next president of Ukraine.

With inputs from agencies

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