Putin describes meeting to take Crimea before referendum

AP News
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Posted: Mar 09, 2015 5:17 PM
Putin describes meeting to take Crimea before referendum

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin has described a secret meeting with officials last year when Russia decided it would take the Crimean Peninsula, the Black Sea region that Moscow annexed from Ukraine last March.

In a trailer for an upcoming documentary, shown on state-owned television late Sunday, Putin said that he met with security officials in February to make plans for saving Ukraine's then-President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled power after months of pro-European protests in the Ukrainian capital.

"We got ready to get him right out of Donetsk by land, by sea or by air," he said. "Heavy machine guns were mounted there so that there wouldn't be much discussion about it."

Putin said that after the meeting he told the security chiefs that they would be "obliged to start working to return Crimea to Russia."

Putin said the meeting took place on Feb. 23, 2014, almost a month before a referendum in Crimea that Moscow has said is the basis for incorporating the region into Russia.

The minute-long trailer was overlaid with dramatic music and sweeping shots of the Crimean coast. The channel, Rossiya-1, didn't specify when the full film would be released.

The U.S. responded to Putin's remarks.

"Certainly, what we've seen is consistent with the deceitful approach we've seen when denying Russia's involvement in eastern Ukraine," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington.

The Kremlin originally denied that it had sent troops into Crimea, though Putin later announced on state television that Russian troops had been sent in. Yanukovych was safely on Russian soil by late February, when Russia's military was establishing its presence in Crimea.

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Matthew Lee contributed to this report from Washington.