Ex-Ukraine president decries Crimea ‘tragedy’
Ukraine’s deposed President Viktor Yanukovych has described Russia’s annexation of Crimea as “a tragedy”.
In an interview with the Associated Press and Russian channel NTV, he said he hoped Crimea would one day become part of Ukraine again.
Mr Yanukovych fled Kiev in February following months of street protests.
Meanwhile, NATO’s top commander in Europe has said Russian forces could mount an advance into Ukraine within 12 hours of receiving the order.
Moscow is believed to have massed tens of thousands of troops on Ukraine’s eastern border in recent days, causing alarm in Kiev and the West.
General Philip Breedlove said all the elements were in place for an advance, including armour, mechanised units, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and all the logistics needed to back them up.
Russia annexed Crimea in southern Ukraine last month following a controversial referendum branded illegal by Kiev and the West. The peninsula has a majority ethnic Russian population.
Mr Yanukovych, now in Russia, said he would try to persuade Russian President Vladimir Putin to return Crimea to Ukraine.
“Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy,” he said.
“We must set such a task and search for ways to return to Crimea on any conditions, so that Crimea may have the maximum degree of independence possible... but be part of Ukraine.”
Mr Yanukovych said had he remained in power, he would have tried to prevent the referendum, calling it a “form of protest” against Ukraine’s new pro-Western leaders.
Mr Yanukovych also said he gave no orders to shoot at antigovernment protesters in clashes in the capital Kiev.
More than 100 people were killed in street protests in Kiev in February.
He said gunfire came from the opposition camp, not from riot police, and that responsibility for the high number of deaths lay with the opposition.
Unrest in Ukraine began late last year when Mr Yanukovych rejected an association agreement with the EU in favour of closer ties with Russia.
The interim government in Kiev that took power after Mr Yanukovych fled has scheduled a presidential and some mayoral elections for 25 May.
Viktor Yanukovych gave his interview in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.