“The decision was made on the night of February 23, 2014, at a meeting between Vladimir Putin and four senior Russian state officials. A few hours earlier, Viktor Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, and Putin had nearly been in a helicopter crash, after a very rough landing in Sochi. Putin believed this was an attempt on his life by foreign intelligence agencies. Having decided that he was ‘surrounded by conspiracies,’ he proposed annexing Crimea. Most of the men around the table were against it, but that didn’t stop Putin.”
This is the version of events former State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev presented in Ukrainian court on Wednesday at a treason trial against deposed President Viktor Yanukovych. Ponomarev wasn’t present at the meeting he described, saying he heard the account from an “officer in the Federal Protective Service” and “another participant in the meeting with Putin.” Ponomarev, who was the only Duma deputy to vote against Russia’s annexation of Crimea, did not name either of these people.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later denied Ponomarev's account, adding that the alleged incident with Putin's Sochi helicopter landing never took place.
Photo on front page: Maxim Shemetov / Reuters / Scanpix / LETA