Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych sat down for an interview with the Associated Press. It is his first interview since resigning and even though he is friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, he is not pleased Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine.
“Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy,” the 63-year-old Yanukovych said, insisting that Russia’s takeover of Crimea wouldn’t have happened if he had stayed in power. He fled Ukraine in February after three months of protests focused on corruption and on his decision to seek closer ties to Russia instead of the European Union.
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.
Yanukovych won the presidential election in 2004, but Ukrainians demanded a new election. After months of protests dubbed the Orange Revolution, another election took place and Yanukovych lost. He ran again in 2010 against Yulia Tymoshenko and won, but before she could protest he had her arrested on corruption charges. He was viewed as Putin’s puppet and the last straw was when he chose the Russian bailout. Parliament ousted him on February 22 and he later escaped to Russia. He held a press conference and insisted he was still the leader of Ukraine.
The AP asked Yanukovych if he would support Russia if Putin decided to invade east Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians and Russian speakers. Yanukovych refused to answer the question even though it is the reason Putin provided to justify annexing Ukraine. Instead, Yanukovych said the situation between Russia and Ukraine must be handled diplomatically, but thinks Ukraine should accept the Kremlin’s idea of making the country a federation.
He also denied all corruption allegations, which include bankrupting the country. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said there is over $30 million missing and Ukrainians immediately eyed Yanukovych’s lavish residence. He told the AP he collected the classic cars over the years, but did not explain where the other luxury items came from. The ducks even had expensive houses in the middle of the pond outside of his house.
Yanukovych denied allegations that he ordered police to open fire on the protesters in Independence Square. Violence escalated on February 18 and over 20 protesters were killed. Civilians caught snipers firing upon unarmed protesters and churches became makeshift hospitals. But Yanukovych insists he was ready to give his life for Ukraine.
With tears welling in his eyes, Yanukovych said he was ready to sacrifice his life during the escalating protests but realized that doing so would be simply a gift to the “neo-fascists” who he said seized power by force. He claimed they machine-gunned his convoy as he was leaving the Ukrainian capital.
“I didn’t want to give them my life just for nothing,” he said.
Ukraine’s presidential election is scheduled for May 25. The top two candidates are “Chocolate King” Petro Poroshenko and ex-political prisoner Yulia Tymoshenko.