KIEV, Ukraine -- Speaking as if he still wielded authority in Ukraine or in Russia, deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said Wednesday that he intends to press Russia to return Crimea to Ukraine.
"Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy," he told The Associated Press and Russia's NTV television in Rostov-on-Don, not far from the Ukrainian border. It was his first interview since he fled Ukraine in February for sanctuary in Russia.
Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean peninsula after backing pro-Russians who seized the parliament building in the Crimean regional capital of Simferopol on Feb. 27. A hastily arranged March 16 referendum there resulted in a vote to join Russia -- an election considered illegitimate by most of the rest of the world.
Moscow has moved quickly to solidify its control over the region, issuing passports and installing the Russian legal system, showing no indication that it would consider a request from any quarter to return Crimea to Ukraine.
Mr. Yanukovych left Kiev on Feb. 22, hours after agreeing to a deal that would have kept him in office until December, when early elections would have been held. Demonstrators had been camped out in the city's Independence Square, known as the Maidan, since November, calling for his removal. The former president angered many Ukrainians when he refused to sign an arrangement that would have brought the nation closer to the European Union. Instead, he said, Ukraine would strengthen economic ties with Russia.
Although the protests had begun over the association agreement with the EU, they evolved into a demand for better government and a fight against deeply rooted corruption.