Russian President Vladimir Putin has admitted for the first time that the plan to annex Crimea was ordered weeks before the referendum on self-determination.
Crimea was formally absorbed into Russia on March 18, to international condemnation, after unidentified gunmen took over the peninsula.
Vladimir Putin said on TV he had ordered work on “returning Crimea” to begin at an all-night meeting on February 22.
The meeting was called after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted.
Speaking last year, Vladimir Putin had said only that he took his final decision about Crimea after secret, undated opinion polls showed 80% of Crimeans favored joining Russia.
The findings of these polls were borne out by the outcome of the referendum on March 16, he told Russian state TV last April.
Speaking in a forthcoming Russian TV documentary, Vladimir Putin said a meeting with officials had been held on February 22-23 to plan the rescue of Ukraine’s deposed president.
“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, who would simply have been liquidated,” he said.
“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 trailer for The Path To The Motherland was broadcast on March 8 with no release date announced.
On February 27, unidentified armed men seized the local parliament and local government buildings in Crimea, raising the Russian flag.
Among them appeared to be regular soldiers without military insignia, who were dubbed the “little green men”.
Vladimir Putin subsequently admitted deploying troops on the peninsula to “stand behind Crimea’s self-defense forces”.
The formal annexation of Crimea sparked unrest in eastern Ukraine on April 7, when pro-Russian protesters occupied government buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv demanding independence.
A month later, pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine after unrecognized referendums.
Ukraine responded by launching an “anti-terrorist operation” against them and the region became engulfed in a conflict which has cost at least 6,000 lives and driven more than a million people from their homes, according to the UN.
The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and NATO say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the separatists with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation.
Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are “volunteers”.
Full details of Viktor Yanukovych’s escape from Ukraine are unclear although Vladimir Putin spoke of preparations to evacuate him from Donetsk.
The documentary, which Russian TV says will be broadcast soon, was made by Andrei Kondrashov, a journalist with state-run channel Rossiya-1.
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