Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'I was wrong' on Crimea

Ukraine's ousted president regrets requesting Russian troops

  • Print

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia -- In his first interview since fleeing to Russia, Ukraine's ousted president said Wednesday he was "wrong" to have invited Russian troops into Crimea and vowed to try to persuade Russia to return the coveted Black Sea peninsula.

Defensive and at times teary-eyed, Viktor Yanukovych told The Associated Press and Russia's state NTV television he still hopes to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin to get the annexed region back.

"Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy," the 63-year-old Yanukovych said, insisting Russia's takeover of Crimea wouldn't have happened if he had stayed in power. He fled Ukraine in February after three months of protests focused on corruption and on his decision to seek closer ties to Russia instead of the European Union.

Yanukovych denied the allegations of corruption, saying he built his palatial residence outside of Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, with his own money. He also denied responsibility for the sniper deaths of about 80 protesters in Kyiv in February, for which he has been charged by Ukraine's interim government.

As the world has watched the tumultuous events in Ukraine, Yanukovych has been a bit of a ghost, even as he has insisted he is still the country's true leader. While Putin has been openly dismissive of Yanukovych, the Russian president has also described him as the legitimate leader and his ouster as illegal.

Yanukovych's statement about Crimea appeared to represent an attempt to shore up at least some support in his homeland, where even his supporters have deserted him.

SSLqCrimea is a tragedy, a major tragedySSRq

-- Ex-Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych

Russia annexed Crimea last month following a hastily called referendum held two weeks after Russian troops took control of the region. Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

While Russia can hardly be expected to roll back its annexation, Yanukovych's statement could widen Putin's options in the talks on settling the Ukrainian crisis by creating an impression Moscow could be open for discussions on Crimea's status in the future.

Yanukovych has now lost the Ukrainian presidency twice in the past decade. In 2004, his presidential win was thrown out after the Orange Revolution protests caused the fraudulent election to be annulled.

Yanukovych said he has spoken with Putin twice by phone and once in person since he arrived in Russia -- describing their talks as "difficult" -- and hopes to have more meetings with the Russian leader to negotiate Crimea's return to Ukraine.

"We must search for ways... so that Crimea may have the maximum degree of independence possible... but be part of Ukraine," he said.

Yanukovych said the Crimean referendum in March -- a vote in which residents overwhelmingly voted to join Russia -- was a response to threats posed by radical nationalists in Ukraine.

Putin said last month Yanukovych had asked Russia to send its troops to Ukraine to protect its people -- a request seen as treason by many Ukrainians. Asked about the move, Yanukovych said he had made a mistake.

"I was wrong," he said. "I acted on my emotions."

Russian troops quickly overran Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, taking over government and military facilities on the pretext of protecting Russians.

Yanukovych did not answer several questions about whether he would support Russia -- which has deployed tens of thousands of troops near the Ukrainian border -- moving into Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians, the justification Putin used to take Crimea.

Yanukovych echoed the key Kremlin demand for settling the Ukrainian crisis, pushing for a referendum that could turn Ukraine into a loosely knit federation. He said such a referendum should be followed by constitutional reform, and only after that should Ukraine have a national election.

The interim government in Kyiv that took power after his ouster has scheduled a presidential election for May 25.

Yanukovych, who was born in the Donetsk coal-mining region of eastern Ukraine, worked at a metal plant before becoming an industrial manager and rising through the ranks to become a local governor and then prime minister. His critics note his criminal record and say he lacks a proper education to qualify for the country's top job.

After he left the country, crowds of Ukrainians flocked to view his opulent country residence outside of Kyiv and were shocked by its extravagant display of wealth amid the country's financial ruin.

On Wednesday, Yanukovych denied any corruption surrounding the estate. He spoke with pride and affection about his collection of dozens of classic cars, saying he had bought them over years. He also said he hadn't seen or used the golden loaf of bread found in his residence that attracted much attention and sarcasm.

He also insisted he gave no advantages or special privileges to his dentist-turned-billionaire son Alexander, who is said to have amassed a vast fortune during his father's rule and angered other Ukrainian tycoons by taking over some of the country's most profitable assets.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 3, 2014 A11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Maurice Leggett on his three interceptions vs. Alouettes

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A mother goose has chosen a rather busy spot to nest her eggs- in the parking lot of St Vital Centre on a boulevard. Countless cars buzz by and people have begun to bring it food.-Goose Challenge Day 06 - May 08, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Bright sunflowers lift their heads toward the south east skies in a  large sunflower field on Hwy 206 and #1 Thursday Standup photo. July 31,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What do you think of the new school-zone speed limit?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google