Russian President Vladimir Putin has revealed that he began to plan the annexation of Crimea in a secret meeting with security services the day Ukraine's pro-Moscow president fled Kiev — and weeks before the peninsula held a self-determination referendum.
The revelation came in a trailer for the documentary Homeward Bound, by state television channel Rossiya 1, which also shows Putin discussing how his government rescued Viktor Yanukovych, who fled to Moscow following months of anti-government protests.
"I invited the leaders of our special services and the defense ministry to the Kremlin and set them the task of saving the life of the president of Ukraine [Yanukovych], otherwise they were going to destroy him," says Putin in the trailer.
He continues: "We finished about seven in the morning. When we were parting, I told all my colleagues, 'We are forced to begin the work to bring Crimea back into Russia'."
The date of the meeting was February 22 — the day Yanukovych disappeared from the Ukrainian capital after protesters seized control of key government buildings.
Video via YouTube/Rossiya 1
After his escape from Kiev, Yanukovych was stripped of his powers by the Ukrainian parliament, and a new government formed. In the trailer, Putin discusses the preparations to evacuate the former Ukrainian president from Donetsk, the eastern city where he had taken refuge. "Heavy machine guns were placed there, so as not to waste time talking."
"We prepared to salvage him straight from Donetsk, by land, by sea, or by air."
It's not the first time Putin has talked about helping Yanukovych to escape. Back in October, Putin said in Sochi: "I will say it openly — he asked to be driven away to Russia, which we did."
On February 27, airports in Crimea were surrounded by unidentified military personnel, and Russian flags were raised over government buildings. Russia was accused of sending forces to the region, but the Kremlin denied this — until the admission by Putin last April that the "little green men" spotted around the peninsula had in fact been Russian soldiers.
A month later, on March 16, a referendum on self-determination was held in the region, in which Crimea overwhelmingly voted to secede from Ukraine and become a territory of Russia. Those loyal to the Ukrainian government boycotted the referendum.
The vote drew condemnation around the world, with the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, and the European commission president, José Manuel Barroso, stating that it was "illegal and illegitimate and its outcome will not be recognized." Five days after the referendum, Putin signed a law formalizing the Crimea annexation. The European Union and the United States subsequently imposed economic sanctions on Russia.
It is unknown when the documentary will be aired.
_Follow Jenna Corderoy on Twitter: _@JennaCorderoy