Ousted Ukrainian leader Yanukovich laments country's loss of Crimea

MOSCOW — Ukraine's ousted president on Wednesday lamented the loss of Crimea to Russia as “a grave pain and tragedy very difficult to come to terms with” but insisted the current interim government in Kiev was solely responsible for the annexation of the region.

“I personally can't agree” on the annexation of Crimea, Viktor Yanukovich said in a televised interview with the Associated Press and NTV, a Russian television network. “If this were happening under me, I would have tried to prevent it.”

Yanukovich acknowledged that he had asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to deploy troops on the Ukrainian peninsula to stop “the outrages by armed gangs of nationalists.”

“I also did this because I myself became an object of an attack by bandits,” he said in the interview, conducted in the Russian city Rostov-on-Don. “Armed gangs roaming around the country pursued me as well. They were shooting with automatic weapons at my convoy. They injured my [protection detail] officer.”

Wednesday’s interview was the third public appearance in Russia by Yanukovich, 63, since he fled Ukraine in late February when confrontations between protesters and riot police led to violent clashes. Scores of people were killed, most of them protesters, and hundreds wounded in the last week of his rule. Many victims were shot by snipers.

Yanukovich denied ordering use of guns against the demonstrators.

“I never gave any orders to open fire,” he said. “And firearms as far as I knew were never issued to units protecting state offices and buildings” in Kiev, the capital.

Numerous videos show police officers and men in black uniforms shooting at protesters with automatic and sniper rifles.

A commission appointed by Ukraine’s interim government has been investigating the shootings and  reportedly will soon be releasing its findings. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed last week that Russia has evidence to suggest the snipers in Kiev were hired by the opposition.

Yanukovich called the forthcoming presidential election in Ukraine, set for May 25, highly questionable. He suggested that it should be preceded by a nationwide referendum to decide whether Ukraine should remain a unitary state or become a federation.

Lavrov said Friday during a meeting with Secretary of State John F. Kerry that Ukraine should become a federation, which would allow more powers and autonomy to its regions, and presumably give Moscow greater influence over the eastern Ukraine areas that have large Russian-speaking populations.

Yanukovich's appearance Wednesday suggested that the Kremlin still considers the fallen leader a handy tool for applying pressure on Ukraine, political scientist Kost Bondarenko said .

“Putin still views Yanukovich as a legitimate leader of Ukraine and uses him to blackmail Ukraine into conducting a constitutional reform allowing Russia to preserve significant positions of influence in Ukraine's industrial east and southeast,” Bondarenko, director of the Institute of Ukrainian Policy, a Kiev-based think tank, said in a phone interview.

“For his own part," he said, "Yanukovich hopes that he can still be considered a potentially good leader for those regions should the said federalization be imposed on Ukraine by hook or by crook.”


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