​‘We did what we had to do’: Putin opens up on Crimea reunification plan

The decision to give Crimea an opportunity to choose if it wants to be a part of Russia again was made after an unofficial survey showed the majority of Crimeans would back reunification, Vladimir Putin revealed in an interview to a Russian TV channel.

The interview is part of a documentary, “Crimea. The Road Back Home,” scheduled to be aired by the Rossiya One TV channel. In the film, the Russian president has given new insights into the events leading up to last year's referendum in Crimea.

READ MORE: Paving the future: Ukraine’s Crimea goes to independence poll

The vote took place after days of violence on the streets of Kiev, which came to be known as the Maidan revolution. The government was overthrown in February 2014, and the Ukrainian president fled the capital.

The highly volatile situation prompted President Putin to convene an urgent meeting with his national security and defense chiefs, during which a crucial decision was taken.

It was the night of the 22nd,” Putin told Rossiya One’s Andrey Kondrashov. “We were done by 7 am. And I won't conceal it, when we were saying goodbye, I told my colleagues – there were four of them – that the situation in Ukraine has evolved in such a way that we have to start work on returning Crimea to being a part of Russia. We couldn't abandon the territory and people who live there, couldn't just throw them under this nationalist bulldozer.”

The Russian president went on to explain that the referendum, on joining Russia, would not have gone ahead without broad public support on the peninsula.

So, he ordered an unofficial poll to be conducted there.

We found out that 75 percent of respondents there wanted [Crimea] to join Russia,” Putin said.

Sevastopol residents at a celebratory show held after the referendum on Crimea's status March 16, 2014 (RIA Novosti/Valeriy Melnikov)

Only then was the referendum was given the green light. There were two choices offered to the voters: to say yes either to the reunification of Crimea with Russia or to Crimea having more autonomy as a part of Ukraine.

The ultimate goal was not to seize Crimea or annex it,” Putin said. “The ultimate goal was to let people express their opinion on how they wanted to live further.”

The president emphasized that he was ready to support any decision taken by the people of Crimea.

We know the results of the referendum. And we did what we had to do,” the Russian leader said.

READ MORE: 95.7% of Crimeans in referendum voted to join Russia - preliminary results

The referendum took place on March 16, 2014. Around 96 percent voted in favor of reunification with Russia. Two days later, Russia and Crimea cemented reunification with a treaty.

READ MORE: Treaty to accept Crimea, Sevastopol to Russian Federation signed

The US and the EU have never recognized the Crimea referendum and reacted to it by sanctions against Russia and against the peninsula.

Russian officials have dismissed criticism of the Crimean referendum, citing Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence as an example of self-determination praised by the West.

The issue has recently been touched upon again by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

When it comes to international law and the attention it gets in particular in connection with the issue of Crimea, we would want our Western colleagues to have no less enthusiasm in dealing with other events in recent history,” Lavrov said.

These include OSCE members bombing another OSCE member, I mean Yugoslavia, the situation with the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo – without any referendums. No one then even bothered to ask why it happened without a referendum. And also the invasion of Iraq under a fake pretext, and the rude violation of the UN Security Council mandate concerning Libya. A country has been destroyed and now everyone is trying to glue its pieces back together and is asking oneself of how not to allow disintegration of other countries in the region.”