Viktor Yanukovych on his Downfall, Putin and Love of Ostriches

Tue, Jun 23, 2015
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History is traditionally written by the victors, but protocol didn't stop ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych from having his own say on the BBC's Newsnight show last night.

Recalling his overthrow in February 2014, Mr. Yanukovych surprised viewers when he said he accepted he was partly to blame for the bloodshed in Kiev's Maidan Square shortly before he fled the country.

"I don't deny my responsibility," he said, before pointing out that he never ordered security forces to open fire on demonstrators. He did admit however, that he could have done more to prevent the bloodshed.

"I did not give any orders [to use firearms], that was not my authority… I was against any use of force, let alone the use of firearms, I was against bloodshed. But the members of the security forces fulfilled their duties according to existing laws. They had the right to use weapons," he said.

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The interview was Yanukovych's first with Western media since his overthrow.

Regarding the Crimea, Yanukovych described what had happened since he was forced from office as a “tragedy”, but said it would never have happened had he remained in power. He also dismissed the current Ukrainian goverment's efforts to get the Crimea back as futile, saying that: "What happened there was very bad. And we need, today, to find a way out of this situation... Now there is war. They talk about getting Crimea back. How? By war? Do we need another war?"

However, Yanukovych's most colorful response came when he was asked about the supposed “opulence” of his personal residence, which came to light shortly after he left the country. Ukrainian TV showed off some of the luxuries in the former president's home, including his collection of vintage cars, a boxing ring, a private golf course, and an entire zoo, complete with gnus, pigs and ostriches.

Yanukovych said that receipts showing he had spent millions of dollars on his home were just “political spin” put out by his opponents to defame him. He also saw no reason to criticize his love of ostriches.

"I supported the ostriches, what's wrong with that?" he said. "They just lived there. What am I supposed to do, go around with my eyes closed?”. However he pointed out that he was unable to spend much time with his ostriches because he was working most of the time. “Even though I do love animals,” he insisted.

On a more serious note, Yanukovych told the BBC that he had paid for his home with his own money. As for the reported €1.7 million he spent on wooden furniture, he said “it does not belong to me personally and never did belong to me".

Yanukovych, who now lives near Moscow, also praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for rescuing him from the country in the aftermath of his fall from power. The former leader told the BBC he was spirited out of the country in an operation carried out by Russia's secret services and personally overseen by President Putin.

"Vladimir Putin took that decision, on the recommendation of his own special forces, that was his right and his business,” Yanukovych said. “He did not consult me. I am of course grateful to him for giving the order and… helped my security to get me out, and save my life."

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