President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia took over Crimea because it had to protect Crimea’s mostly ethnic-Russian population after pro-Western Ukrainian nationalists came to power in Ukraine.
In the latest preview of an upcoming documentary called “Homeward bound” on state-run Rossiya-1 television, Putin portrayed Russia’s military takeover and annexation of the Ukrainian province as a rescue mission.
“We were forced to start working on returning Crimea to Russia because we could not abandon this territory and the people who live there to the mercy of fate, to be crushed by nationalists, “ Putin said yesterday.
Putin pinned the blame for what Moscow calls a coup in Kiev on nationalists supported by Western countries “thousands of kilometres away.”
“It wasn’t us who committed a coup d’etat, it was done by nationalists and people with extreme views, they were given support,” Putin said. “But we are here, this is our land,” he said.
Shortly after the February 2014 overthrow of Ukraine’s Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in Kiev, Russian soldiers suddenly fanned across Crimea, which has deep ethnic-Russian roots and where there was less support for the pro-Western revolution in the capital.
A subsequent referendum staged after Ukrainian authorities had already been pushed out gave overwhelming backing to making the Black Sea peninsula part of Russia.
The military operation was initially kept secret, despite the increasingly obvious actions of unmarked Russian forces. Later, the Kremlin conceded that it had been behind the power grab.
In the upcoming documentary, Putin said his first step was to order an opinion poll on the population’s intentions. It found 75 per cent support for joining Russia, he said, insisting that his decision to annex the territory only came later in response to the upheaval in Kiev.
“It became obvious to me that if we come close to this (happening), then the level, the number of those who would like this historic event to take place will be much higher,” the president said.
Putin claimed that if the people of Crimea had said they wanted greater autonomy “but within Ukraine,” then he would have “let that happen.”
“The final aim was not to seize Crimea, or some kind of annexation. The final aim was to give people the opportunity to express their opinion on how they want to live further,” Putin insisted, referring to the disputed referendum which was condemned by Western capitals as forced upon the population.
“We know the results of the referendum and we acted as we were obliged to act,” Putin said.