Ex-Ukraine pres­i­dent de­cries Crimea ‘tragedy’

Daily Trust - - INTERNATIONAL -

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.

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