A month ago, now-ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych asked Russia to send troops into Crimea. Now, the politician says that was a mistake.
"I was wrong," Yanukovych said. "I acted on my emotions."
Yanukovych's remarks were reported Wednesday by the AP's Caro Kriel and Vladimir Isachenkov, in the politician's first interview since he fled Ukraine in late February in the face of opposition forces.
"Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy," said Yanukovych, whom AP described as "defensive and at times teary-eyed" during the interview. He insisted that Russia would not have taken the peninsula had he stayed in power.
Yanukovych wants to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin and convince him to return Crimea to Ukraine. Putin, however, is unlikely to listen to him. While Putin did offer Yanukovych protection — and insists that he remains the true leader of Ukraine — the Russian president hasn't worked too hard to restore Yanukovych's influence. Last month, Putin said that Yanukovych "has no political future."
Still, the pair have talked. The AP reports:
Yanukovych said he has spoken with Putin twice by phone and once in person since he arrived in Russia — describing their talks as "difficult" — and 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.
And Putin could incorporate Yanukovych's turnaround into future strategy:
While Russia can hardly be expected to roll back its annexation, Yanukovych's statement could widen Putin's options in the talks on settling the Ukrainian crisis by creating an impression that Moscow could be open for discussions on Crimea's status in the future.
Yanukovych's regret over losing Crimea contradicts his recent remarks on the Ukraine crisis. Just last week, the longtime politician, who is living in exile in Moscow, was urging Ukraine to hold a series of regional referendums like the one held in the peninsula, which resulted in its annexation by Russia. But in the AP interview, Yanukovych again reiterated his support for a referendum "that could turn Ukraine into a loosely knit federation."
Yanukovych's apologetic statement comes just two months before Ukraine's presidential elections. The politician said he hopes to return to Ukraine, though his supporters have largely abandoned him.