Deposed Ukrainian President: ‘I Was Wrong’ to Ask Russia for Help

Yanukovych, living in exile in Moscow, believes Crimea’s annexation was a mistake.

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (left) winks at Russian President Vladimir Putin during a signing ceremony at the Kremlin in Moscow in December.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
April 2, 2014, 11:57 a.m.

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.

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