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Ousted Ukrainian leader Yanukovich proposes holding referendum on Donbass status

Ex-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich says he is confident that the majority of citizens of Ukraine will support any peace initiative
Mariupol, Eastern Ukraine AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka
Mariupol, Eastern Ukraine
© AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka

MOSCOW, February 22. /TASS/. Ex-President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovich proposes hold a referendum on the status of Donbass for peaceful settlement of the conflict in the region. This proposal is included in his address to the leaders of Germany, France, Poland, the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and the European Parliament, as well as the letters to the presidents of Russia and the United States. The address was made public during the interview that Yanukovich gave to a group of Russian and Ukrainian journalists in connection with the third anniversary of the coup in Ukraine.

"In case the current Ukrainian authorities do not comply with the Minsk agreements, it is necessary to initiate a referendum on the status of Donbass," the statement said. Yanukovich also considers it necessary to "include representatives of the protesting party, representing the people of Donbass, in the Normandy format negotiations."

Yanukovich is confident that the majority of citizens of Ukraine will support any peace initiative. "I know the sentiment of the people in Ukraine," he said during the interview. "The country’s population will support any steps for the peaceful settlement, only a small part of the radicals enjoys the fact that blood is shed. I think the authorities will still be forced to put them in their place, otherwise they will overthrow them," he said.

Commenting on the actions of radicals, who in recent weeks blocked rail transportation of coal from Donbass, the ex-president noted that any blockade of Donbas is not good for the country and further pushes away the people of the region. "Well, then let them say openly that they do not need Donbass," Yanukovich said, adding that if the authorities need this region, it is necessary to begin negotiations. "Without participation of representatives of Donbass in the talks it will be very difficult to solve this problem," he said.

Truth about Maidan events

Setting up an independent international commission is the only way to establish the truth about the tragic events that took place in Kiev in February 2014, he said.

"There are many witnesses who do not want to testify to the current authorities, do not want to provide any information because they know that in the past three years all the evidence that could be destroyed, was destroyed," he said. "Much evidence has been collected. There are people who are willing to testify, but only to an international monitoring commission that should be set up in order to fulfill the agreement signed on February 21 (2014) and should particularly comprise representatives of the opposition and international experts."

At the same time, in Yanukovich’s words, he has no doubts that the current Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko was one of those responsible for the 2014 "Maidan" events. "He organized all the illegal activities and killings that took place at the Maidan," the former president said adding that Lutsenko had publicly said that the Maidan activists had weapons and were ready to use them.

"We are talking about the killings of innocent people who were shot dead from the buildings occupied by the maidan activists," Yanukovich went on to say. "Not one member of the Pravy Sektor [of Right Sector, nationalist organization outlawed in Russia] was killed, they were shooting ordinary people who had just come to the ‘Maidan’. Those people were in the area that was easy to target from the buildings where snipers were. There are many proofs and people who are ready to testify."

"If the world community wants to know the truth and is willing to fulfill the pledges made before [when the February 21 agreement was signed], then all the criminals will be identified," Yanukovich concluded.

Preserving territorial integrity of Ukraine

Yanukovich confirmed that he supports preservation of the territorial integrity of Ukraine. "I am completely against Donbass exiting Ukraine, it is necessary to preserve the territorial integrity of the country. However, it is necessary to create all conditions for peaceful coexistence, rebuild infrastructure that was destroyed by the war, return people, who were forced out from their native land. People dream about it, they believe that they would return to their homeland," he said.

According to Yanukovich, a compromise is always necessary. "It will be impossible to just forget, but there is no other way," he said.

Early parliamentary, presidential polls unavoidable

Early parliamentary and presidential elections are unavoidable in Ukraine, Yanukovich saidю

"The situation in Ukraine is hopeless," he said. "People don’t believe politicians. Ratings of all political parties and all politicians are the lowest of the low."

"If the current authorities fail to reach peace settlement (in Donbass), and the way out is only through the Minsk agreements, early parliamentary and presidential elections are unavoidable," Yanukovich stressed, adding that it would be a competition between pragmatists and radicals.

"It would be fight with no rules, unprecedented fight," he stressed.

Special commission

Yanukovich wants the Council of Europe to set up a special independent commission to monitor the investigation of crimes that were committed during the "euromaidan" days from November 2013 to February 2014.

In his address, Yanukovich urges "taking actions to protect fundamental human rights in Ukraine, restoring democracy and the rule of law", in particular he calls for "creation of a special commission by the Council of Europe to monitor the investigation of crimes committed on "maidan".

"My address is my personal initiative regarding creation of a special independent international commission. One of its goals is to investigate crimes that were committed for the last three years in Ukraine," Yanukovich said.

In his address Yanukovich said that in order to solve the existing problems in Ukraine, it is important to answer the following questions: who organized murders on "maidan" and whether the actions of the opposition and radicals to seize power in Ukraine in February 2014 were legitimate? Who unleashed the deadly war in eastern Ukraine? Who is responsible for dozens of killed?

According to Yanukovich, in the last three years, the Ukrainian authorities failed "to conduct a professional and impartial investigation" of the events on maidan.

"On the contrary, during this time they destroyed every evidence and framed up cases against law enforcement officers who carried out their duties for the protection of the rule of law on "maidan," the document says.

Abolish amnesty for "maidan" crimes

Meanwhile any investigation of crimes committed by participants of "maidan" protests, is blocked on the level of legislation. On February 21, 2014 the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the Law "About non-admission of prosecution and punishment concerning events which took place during peaceful assemblies, and recognition voided some laws of Ukraine."

This law prohibits any investigation against participants of mass protests who committed crimes, including some grave crimes in the period from November 21, 2013 to February 28, 2014, Yanukovich said.

"It is obvious that this fact is not contributing to the settlement of the crisis in Ukraine and divides society into "winners" and "defeated", not into law-abiding people and criminals. This is a direct violation of the Constitution of Ukraine: the fundamental principle has been violated - the equality of all citizens before the law," the former president said.

In this regard, Yanukovich calls on forcing the Ukrainian authorities to initiate a real investigation into the killings and other serious crimes committed on "maidan" against law enforcement officers, as well as to abolish the law on amnesty for participants of the "maidan" events.

Starting international investigation

During the interview, Yanukovich noted that three years after the coup in Ukraine brought only grief and sufferings to the country’s citizens.

"Thousands of innocent people were killed and tens of thousands were injured. This is the guilt of the Kiev government, which for the sake of its political ambitions, pushed the country to the tragic war. This is also the guilt of the authorities of several other states. Instead of mediation, they spoke about from high rostrums, they actually masterminded and carried out an armed seizure of power by the people who seized the power in Ukraine, I believe, only for a while," the former president said.

Yanukovich urged taking immediate action to stop the bloodshed.

"This can be done only through the investigation of crimes that were committed on "maidan," in Odessa and other places, that triggered the Civil War," the former head of the Ukrainian state said. Yanukovich is confident that without an impartial investigation conducted under international supervision, it is impossible to reach national reconciliation in Ukraine.

The former president promised to do his best to preserve the political unity of the country, to remove regional and other dividing lines in Ukraine, that were drawn by the current government.

"Modern political history, the fate of Yemen, where the civil war is now raging, shows that only a full-fledged political dialogue, not the language of war can lead to a real national reconciliation and accord," the former president of Ukraine said.

Ex-president ready to talk with Ukrainian investigators

Yanukovich, who faces a criminal case in Kiev, is ready to defend himself in court. 

"I'm ready to answer all the questions of the investigator, as a criminal case is open, and there are people who are trying to fabricate it, including some of the former Russian politicians, I would say - clowns. I am ready to testify, if I am given such opportunity. Currently I am deprived of it," Yanukovich said.

Yanukovich noted that he would protect himself without leaving the borders of the Russian Federation, where he currently lives. "Everyone knows where I live. However, the offer to come to Kiev - what does it mean? This is a game. There are other ways - the investigators can come to Russia," he added.

"How can I come to Ukraine? To please them? I did not give them the pleasure of killing me earlier, now it just turned into a farce," Yanukovich said.

At the same time, he did not specify the details of his defense line. "These are legal questions. If I go into details, those crazy people would start to manipulate facts, look for some other clowns with evidence," he concluded.

On November 28, 2016, Prosecutor General of Ukraine Yuri Lutsenko during the court session on the case of ex-employees of Berkut special division, where Yanukovich has testified via video link, announced opening the case against him. The former president was accused of treason. On January 20, Pechersk District Court of Kiev allowed pre-trial investigation in the defendant's absence against Yanukovich. The defense insists that the decision was unreasonable.