By Nathan Lee, TLE Correspondent
The current, ongoing crisis in Ukraine is the most devastating manifestation of East vs West tensions seen since the Cold War era.
The Iron Curtain that now runs along the East of Ukraine already bores a physical scar since the annexation of Crimea by Russia on 18 March. Unrest in Donetsk and Luhansk between the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government and pro-Russian insurgents could lead to further splits as Putin takes scissor to cloth, remarking territorial boundaries as he sweeps up pockets of separatists.
Residing in Russia, exiled after Euromaidan, is Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Although it is difficult to place blame on the shoulders of any one man amidst a crisis that has been brewing for decades, Yanukovych played a big hand in cementing a divide in the country between pro-Russian Ukrainians and younger, pro-European Union Ukrainians. His actions led the country to the brink of a civil war which may have materialised had he not fled the capital for Kharkiv, and then on to Crimea and Russia.
The exiled Prime Minister has spoken exclusively to BBC Newsnight from Russia in his first interview with a Western journalist since his country was plunged into civil war. Speaking to Gabriel Gatehouse, he said he denies responsibility for the killings in Maidan in February 2014, shifting the blame entirely for the events despite his position as president and commander in chief of the nation at the time.
On Crimea, he tactfully resigns to the fact that the territory now belongs to Russia. “What has happened, has happened,” he says. “Now there is war. They talk about getting Crimea back. How? By war? We need another war?” Asked whether Crimea is a tragedy or historical justice, he responds: “Of course it’s a tragedy of the Ukrainian state. Look at what’s happened: the country is divided, people are poor.”
Since been ousted from power, Yanukovich’s luxury estate was revealed by protesters to the disbelief of the World. In a country engulfed in turmoil, poverty and economic instability, the estate was fit for a king, housing a golf course, luxury sports cars and, astonishingly, a petting zoo.
This is an excerpt from the Newsnight special to be broadcast on BBC Two from 22:30 tonight:
Gabriel Gatehouse: At your residence you paid 1.7 million euro for wooden furniture.
Viktor Yanukovych: I repeat, I repeat, everything else on the territory does not belong to me personally, and never did belong to me.
Gabriel Gatehouse: The zoo?
Viktor Yanukovych: What?
Gabriel Gatehouse: The zoo, with the ostriches etc.
Viktor Yanukovych: What’s wrong with the fact that I supported those people?
Gabriel Gatehouse: Did the ostriches belong to you?
Viktor Yanukovych: What’s wrong with supporting?
Gabriel Gatehouse: What did you support?
Viktor Yanukovych: That I supported the ostriches, what’s wrong with that?
Gabriel Gatehouse: You supported the ostriches
Viktor Yanukovych: Yes. They just lived there
Gabriel Gatehouse: They just happened to be living there on the territory of your residence?
Viktor Yanukovych: Yes, what am I supposed to do, go around with my eyes closed?
Gabriel Gatehouse: Excuse me but it’s a little hard to believe that the president of the country lives in a place where there just happen to be ostriches wandering about.
Viktor Yanukovych: No they weren’t just wandering around. It was a totally separate territory.
Gabriel Gatehouse: No it was one territory, I went there myself.
Viktor Yanukovych: Ok it was one territory, but I have 1.7 hectares, attached to my home..
Gabriel Gatehouse: You want to say that the president of the country lived on the territory of someone else’s private zoo?
Viktor Yanukovych: What do you mean… The territory of that zoo, you understand… You’re asking incorrect questions, I tell you
Gabriel Gatehouse: No? why?
Viktor Yanukovych: Especially if you’ve been there. That zoo is to one side.
Gabriel Gatehouse: But it’s all together
Viktor Yanukovych: If I ever went there I went there roughly twice a year, when I had time. I didn’t have much time. I worked. Even though I love animals. When I had time, I went there.