Overthrown Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych says it was 'wrong' to call for Russian troops in Crimea

Overthrown president concedes calling for Russian troops on the peninsula was 'wrong'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 April, 2014, 8:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 04 April, 2014, 1:23am

Defensive and at times tearful, Ukraine's ousted president conceded that he made a mistake when he invited Russian troops into Crimea, and vowed to try to negotiate with Vladimir Putin to recover the Black Sea peninsula.

"Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy," Viktor Yanukovych said on Wednesday in his first interview since fleeing to Russia in February following months-long protests focused on corruption and his decision to seek closer ties with Russia instead of the European Union.

Meanwhile Ukraine's Western-backed leaders accused Yanukovych and Russian agents of organising two days of bloodshed in February that left nearly 90 dead. Acting interior minister Arsen Avakov said Yanukovych had issued the "criminal order" to fire at the protesters while agents from Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) helped him plan and carry out the assault.

An FSB spokesman quickly rejected the allegation. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for his part said "huge amounts of evidence" contradicted Kiev's accusations.

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, on the pretext of protecting Russians.

Yanukovych admitted he made a mistake. "I was wrong," he told Russia's state NTV television . "I acted on my emotions."

He insisted that Russia's takeover of Crimea wouldn't have happened if he had stayed in power.

The 63-year-old has rarely been seen since he was overthrown, even while insisting he is still the country's true leader.

Putin has been dismissive of Yanukovych, but the Russian president has also described him as the legitimate leader and his overthrow illegal. Yanukovych said he hoped to have more meetings with Putin 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.

Russia annexed Crimea last month following a referendum held two weeks after Russian troops seized the region. Ukraine and the West rejected the vote and the annexation as illegal.

Echoing the Kremlin's position, Yanukovych said the Crimean referendum - in which residents overwhelmingly voted to join Russia - was a response to threats posed by radical nationalists in Ukraine.

Yanukovych also backed the Kremlin's solution to the Ukrainian crisis - another referendum that could turn Ukraine into a loosely knit federation. He said such a vote should be followed by constitutional reform, and only after that should Ukraine have a national election.

A presidential election is scheduled for May 25.