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ROSTOV-ON-DON, Russia (AP) — Defensive and at times tearful, Ukraine's ousted president conceded Wednesday that he made a mistake when he invited Russian troops into Crimea and vowed to try to negotiate with Vladimir Putin to get the coveted Black Sea peninsula back.
"Crimea is a tragedy, a major tragedy," Viktor Yanukovych told The Associated Press in his first interview since fleeing to Russia in February, following monthslong protests focused on corruption and his decision to seek closer ties to Russia instead of the European Union.
Putin said last month that Yanukovych had asked Russia to send its troops to Crimea to protect its people — a request seen as treason by many Ukrainians. Russian troops quickly overran Crimea, which has an ethnic Russian majority, taking over government and military facilities on the pretext of protecting Russians.
Asked about the move, Yanukovych said he made a mistake.
"I was wrong," he told the AP and Russia's state NTV television, speaking in Russian. "I acted on my emotions."
"We must search for ways ... so that Crimea may have the maximum degree of independence possible ... but be part of Ukraine," he said.
Yanukovych has now lost the Ukrainian presidency twice in the past decade. In 2004, his presidential win was thrown out after the Orange Revolution protests caused the fraudulent election to be annulled.