The Times West Virginian

Headline News

April 3, 2014

Yanukovych admits mistakes on Crimea

ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia — Defensive and at times tearful, Ukraine’s ousted president conceded Wednesday that he made a mistake when he invited Russian troops into Crimea and vowed to try to negotiate with Vladimir Putin to get the coveted Black Sea peninsula back.

“Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy,” Viktor Yanukovych told The Associated Press in his first interview since fleeing to Russia in February, following monthslong protests focused on corruption and his decision to seek closer ties to Russia instead of the European Union.

Putin said last month that Yanukovych had asked Russia to send its troops to Crimea to protect its people — a request seen as treason by many Ukrainians. Russian troops quickly overran Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, taking over government and military facilities on the pretext of protecting Russians.

Asked about the move, Yanukovych said he made a mistake.

“I was wrong,” he told the AP and Russia’s state NTV television, speaking in Russian. “I acted on my emotions.”

Still, Yanukovych insisted that Russia’s takeover of Crimea wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in power. He also denied responsibility for the sniper deaths of about 80 protesters in Kiev in February, for which he has been charged by Ukraine’s interim government.

As the world has watched the tumultuous events in Ukraine, the 63-year-old Yanukovych has rarely been seen, 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 said he has spoken with Putin only twice by phone and once in person since he arrived in Russia, describing their talks as “difficult.” He said he 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.

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