Ukraine premier: Crimea will remain in Ukraine

Associated Press photo by Andrew Lubimov -- The Russian navy ship minesweeper 'Turbinist'  is seenMonday  at harbor of  Sevastopol, Ukraine.  Show caption
Associated Press photo by Andrew Lubimov -- The Russian navy ship minesweeper 'Turbinist' is seenMonday at harbor of Sevastopol, Ukraine.

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s new prime minister said Wednesday that embattled Crimea must remain part of Ukraine, but may be granted more local powers.

In the first interview since taking office last week, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk blamed Russian President Vladimir Putin for causing one of the sharpest international crises in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

A special task force could be established “to consider what kind of additional autonomy the Crimean Republic could get,” Yatsenyuk told The Associated Press. Since last weekend, Russian troops have taken control of much of the peninsula in the Black Sea, where Russian speakers are in the majority.

The prime minister, approved by parliament on Feb. 27, also denied a report that cash-strapped Ukraine was negotiating with the United States for deployment of U.S. missile defenses in exchange for financial help.

“This is not true,” Yatsenyuk told the AP. “We have no talks with the government of the United States of America on any kind of deployment of any military forces. The only negotiations we have is to get financial support, financial aid from the U.S government in order to stabilize the economic situation in my country. It’s absurd.”

On Tuesday, Putin said Ukraine’s current leaders had come to power as the result of an unconstitutional coup. In the interview, Yatsenyuk blamed Russia’s leader for the current crisis and said Putin was the one acting outside the law.

“A number of military forces of the Russian Federation are deployed in Crimea. We cannot figure the reason out why Russian boots are on Ukrainian ground. And it’s crystal clear that it was ordered personally by President Putin. This is Ukrainian territory and Russia wants to grab control over Crimea. But I will underline again, we will do our best in order to regain control over Ukrainian territory. The Russian military should return to its barracks.”

“What happened in Crimea is unconstitutional and resembles ... a coup supported by the Russian government and the Russian military,” Yatsenyuk said. “The Ukrainian government is legitimate. And let me remind Mr. Putin that this government was supported by the constitutional majority of Ukrainian MPs with 371 votes. We are legitimate and we must fulfill our responsibilities. And we strongly recommend to our Russian partners to build up relations with the new Ukrainian government.”

A spokesman said it was the prime minister’s first sit-down interview since he assumed the post last week.