Ukraine’s exiled former president, who was found guilty of fueling a deadly separatist conflict in the east, on Wednesday claimed there could be possible vote rigging in the country’s upcoming presidential election. Ukrainians will vote March 31 to elect a new president. Former President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in February 2014 following months of anti-government protests. Weeks later, Russia used his appeal to send troops to Ukraine as a justification for annexing the Crimean peninsula. Yanukovych, 68, spoke to the press Wednesday in Moscow, breaking more than a year of silence. He would not endorse any of the over 30 Ukrainian presidential candidates but accused President Petro Poroshenko of plotting vote rigging. He offered no proof for his claims.
“Authorities are going to do everything in their power and use all of its powers, including various tricks, to rig the voting, because President Poroshenko cannot win without vote rigging,” Yanukovych told reporters in his first public appearance since 2017.
Yanukovych and his election team were accused of vote rigging during Ukraine’s 2004 presidential campaign. He ended up losing the re-run of the presidential runoff after the earlier results were annulled following reports of wide-spread vote rigging in his favor.
Russian authorities have for years relied on Yanukovych to lend legitimacy to their actions both in Crimea and in eastern Ukraine, which have trigged wide-ranging Western sanctions against Russia.