Russia helped to evacuate Yanukovych to Crimea, when the Black Sea peninsula was still part of Ukraine, and then agreed to assist him across the border into Russia, Putin told the annual Valdai Club meeting in Sochi today, Censor.NET reports citing Bloomberg.
"I won't conceal it that we helped him move to Crimea," he said. "At that moment, Crimea was part of Ukraine. As the events in Kyiv were developing very quickly and violently, it made no sense for him to return to Kyiv."
Putin's comments mark the first time Russia has said it helped Yanukovych to flee into exile after months of anti-government protests in Kyiv. Putin admitted in April that the soldiers who took control of Crimea before his annexation of the Black Sea territory were Russian. He'd previously denied that Russia's military was involved.
The takeover of Crimea, which prompted the U.S. and its allies to impose sanctions, complied with United Nations norms, Putin said. The transfer of Crimea from Russia to Ukraine under the Soviet Union had been illegal, he said.
Putin said he never doubted Ukraine's sovereignty as a "full-fledged modern state" and said Russia will respect its neighbor's sovereignty in the future. He called for an "immediate" end to the conflict in the eastern Ukrainian regions of Donetsk and Luhansk between the military and pro-Russian separatists.
He said he saw no willingness on Ukraine's part to achieve a peaceful settlement and that the continued use of force may lead to a dead end.