Ukraine's ousted president, Viktor Yanukovych, has called Russia's annexation of Crimea a "tragedy." In an interview he admitted he made mistakes and vowed to persuade Moscow to return the Black Sea peninsula.
In an interview with The Associated Press and Russia's state NTV television, Ukraine's ousted president Yanukovych said Wednesday, "Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy."
In his first interview since fleeing to Russia, he vowed to try and persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to return the Black Sea peninsula.
However, he insisted the referendum wouldn't have happened if he had stayed in power and that it was a response to threats posed by radical nationalists in Ukraine.
Yanukovych fled Ukraine in February after three months of escalating anti-government protests sparked by his decision to back out of an association treaty with the EU in favor of strengthening ties with Russia.
'I was wrong'
Yanukovych also said it was a mistake to have invited Russian troops into Crimea.
"I was wrong," he said. "I acted on my emotions."
Yanukovych said he has spoken with Putin several times since he arrived in Russia and said he hopes to have more meetings 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.
Russian troops quickly seized Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority. Putin justified the move as protection for the mainly Russia-speaking population.
Ukraine and the West have rejected the vote and the annexation as illegitimate. Since the takeover, Moscow has faced sanctions and most recently NATO foreign ministers have agreed to halt all cooperation with Russia.
Yanukovych also denied allegations of corruption after his palatial residence outside of Kyiv was opened to the public once he fled. He insists he bought it with his own money.
He also firmly denied responsibility for the sniper deaths of dozens of protesters in Kyiv in February. The interim government in Kyiv has charged him in connection to the deaths.
The long-time politician said he hopes to return to Ukraine someday however it remains unclear when and if he will do so any time in the near future.
hc/kms (AP, NTV television)