On February 22, the third anniversary of his flight from Kyiv in the wake of mass public protests calling for his removal, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych said at a press conference in Moscow that he had never asked Russia to send forces to put down the pro-European Maidan demonstrations.
Yanukovych also claimed that he had never sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin but that he had only made a "statement" and "tried to protect his people" within his powers.
On March 16, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov backed up Yanukovych, saying "No letter was officially submitted to the Russian presidential administration, no such letter was registered in the administration."
Yet video dated March 3, 2014 of the late Vitaly Churkin, who served at that time as Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations in New York, show him reading a statement at the UN Security Council dated March 1, 2014 which Churkin said was from Yanukovych. Read out by Churkin, the statement said that power had been "seized illegally" in Ukraine and that "people's lives were under threat" and therefore Yanukovych appealed to President Vladimir Putin "to use the armed forces of the Russian Federation to restore legality, peace, the law and order, stability and protection of the population of Ukraine."
As the independent Riga-based news site Meduza points out, in fact, it was Russia that had called for the emergency meeting of the UN Security Council that day, and entered the text of Yanukovych’s appeal into the official record of the meeting.
Furthermore, as Meduza notes, Churkin said that due to concern for the lives of Russian citizens in Ukraine and the personnel in the Black Sea Fleet, Putin had appealed to the Federation Council, Russia’s upper chamber of parliament, for authorization to use force to "normalize the socio-political situation" in Ukraine and referenced what he called "the direct appeal" of Yanukovych.
On March 1, the Federation Council approved Putin's appeal to "defend our citizens and compatriots and defend the most important human right, the right to life."
In his UN speech, Churkin also accused “Russia's partners” of inciting demonstrators to make ultimatums and threatening sanctions, but insisted Russia's actions were "appropriate and legitimate."
At a news conference on March 4, 2014, the transcript of which is on the Kremlin website, Putin cited his authorization from parliament to send troops, and emphasized what he called the "direct appeal" to send forces from Yanukovych whom he deemed still the "active and legitimate president" of Ukraine.
Later, as Meduza notes, Moscow used Yanukovych's appeal to justify Russian troops in Crimea which had by that time already been sent in addition to the Black Fleet. (Putin admitted this fact publicly in 2015).
Meduza said the reason for Moscow's shift on Yanukovych's appeal is not known, but perhaps it was trying to influence the outcome of Yanukovych's treason case in Kyiv, sent to court on February 22. Russia filed a claim with the Prosecutor's Office of Ukraine that "neither the Administration of the President of the Russian Federation nor the Federation Council of the Russian Federation have received any letters from Yanukovych."
Russia’s claim could also be linked to the case Ukraine has lodged in the International Court of Justice as well.
Churkin died suddenly on February 20, 2017 at the age of 64 after collapsing in his office at the Russian Mission to the UN in New York.
Citing orders from the State Department referencing diplomatic immunity, the New York Medical Examiner did not disclose the cause of death, believed to be a heart attack.