KYIV -- A retired senior Ukrainian diplomat has testified at the in-absentia treason trial of former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Yuriy Serheyev, Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations from 2007 to 2015, spoke for over an hour in the Kyiv courtroom as the trial resumed on August 15 after a two-week hiatus.
He gave testimony about the situation at the UN and in Ukraine and Russia in February and March 2014, when Moscow sent troops in unmarked uniforms to Crimea to establish control over the Ukrainian region before illegally annexing it.
Serheyev said that Russia used Yanukovych to try to justify its intervention by claiming that the "legal president of Ukraine” had asked Moscow to send troops into Ukraine to preserve order and to ensure the safety of personnel at Russia's naval base in Crimea.
"Yanukovych's address to Putin was the last attempt by the Russian Federation to justify its aggression against Ukraine before the world community," he said, referring to a letter dated March 1, 2014, that Russia's UN ambassador read from at a Security Council meeting three days later.
Serheyev also recalled a March 27, 2014 meeting at which the UN General Assembly, by a vote of 100-11 with 58 abstentions, passed a resolution declaring that the Russian-orchestrated referendum on Crimea's secession from Ukraine had "no validity" and urging the international community "not to recognize any alteration of the status" of Crimea.
Yanukovych abandoned office in late February 2014 and fled to Russia in the face of protests triggered by his decision to scrap plans for a landmark deal with the European Union and instead improve trade ties with Moscow.
Dozens of people were killed when his government attempted to clamp down on the pro-European protests known as the Euromaidan.
Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for Yanukovych, who is accused of treason, violating Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and abetting Russian aggression.
After he fled, Russia seized Crimea and fomented opposition to the central government in eastern Ukraine, where the ensuing war between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.
The Ukrainian court had tried to arrange for Yanukovych to take part in the trial by video-link from Russia, where he remains.
But Yanukovych announced on July 6 that he would not participate, charging that the trial is politically motivated, and dismissed his lawyers from the case.
The court then appointed a lawyer to represent Yanukovych.