Russian President Vladimir Putin has described the moment he claims to have ordered the incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation. Details of the overnight meeting came to light in a forthcoming documentary.
Putin said he decided to begin the annexation of Crimea when he met security officials to discuss rescue plans for ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych.
In a trailer for the documentary titled "Homeward Bound," Putin said it had been decided upon in an overnight meeting from February 22 to 23. At the end, he told defense ministry officials and special forces commanders to start work on the annexation.
"We ended at about seven in the morning," Putin said in the trailer. "When we were saying goodbye, I said to all my colleagues: we must start working on returning Crimea to Russia."
By late February, Yanukovych had already arrived in Russia, and unmarked Russian forces were preparing to establish a presence in Crimea. Soldiers took over the Crimean local parliament and voted in a new government, with the region being incorporated two days after a March 16 referendum in favor of joining Russia.
Changing story of occupation
The military operation was initially kept secret with the Kremlin insisting that only locals were involved in the uprising against Kyiv. Putin later conceded Russian troops were involved, particularly in the build-up to the cessation vote. Russian officials had previously said the annexation decision, to which Kyiv has strongly objected, was taken only after the referendum.
Russian soldiers have been given medals "For returning Crimea" that cite the beginning of the operation as February 20, before the overnight meeting even took place.
Home to Russia's Black Sea fleet, Crimea was given by Russia to Ukraine when both were part of the USSR
Putin also said the Russian military had been preparing to fight its way into the eastern city of Donetsk to rescue Yanukovych, with Putin claiming the toppled pro-Russian leader would have otherwise been killed.
"We got ready to get him out of Donetsk by land, by sea and by air," said Putin.
The minute-long trailer, aired late on Sunday by state television channel Rossiya-1, featured dramatic music and shots of the Crimean coast. The channel did not specify when the full film would be shown, only that it would be broadcast "soon."
Crimea has an ethnic Russian majority and is the base of Moscow's Black Sea fleet. Having been part of the Russian empire, it was transferred by Kremlin leader Nikita Khrushchev as a "gift" to Ukraine from Russia in 1954 when both countries were part of the Soviet Union.
Fighting in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, which has killed more than 6,000 people, flared up in April in the wake of Crimea's annexation by Russia.
rc/jr (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)