Controversy over Ukraine's Tymoshenko 'wipe out Russians' leak

KIEV (AFP) - Ukraine's former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was plunged into fresh controversy on Tuesday after Russian television broadcast a tape where she is heard urging the "wiping out" of Russians over Moscow's seizure of Crimea.

Ms Tymoshenko, a hugely controversial figure both in Ukraine and Russia who was released from jail last month, confirmed the voice was hers but said some of the comments had been manipulated.

"This really crosses all the boundaries," Ms Tymoshenko is heard to say in the leaked phone call posted on YouTube and broadcast extensively on Russian television Monday.

"One has to take up arms and go wipe out these damn 'katsaps' together with their leader," the voice said in Russian, without mentioning President Vladimir Putin by name.

The word "katsap" is a derogatory Ukrainian term for Russians.

During the conversation, Ms Tymoshenko is said to discuss Russia's seizure of Ukraine's Russian-speaking peninsula of Crimea with Ukrainian MP and former government official Nestor Shufrych.

Ms Tymoshenko, who spent three years in jail on what her supporters say were politically motivated charges of abuse of power before being freed last month, said if she were in power Moscow would not be able to take the peninsula.

"I am sorry that I am not able to be there and am not in charge of these processes, they wouldn't have had a... chance of getting Crimea off me." "I would have found a way to (them) finish off," the 53-year-old leader of the 2004 pro-democracy Orange revolution was heard as saying.

Discussing the fate of Ukraine's eight million ethnic Russians with Shufrych, Ms Tymoshenko was also heard as saying that they should be "nuked".

"The conversation took place but (the part) about 8 million Russians in Ukraine is a montage," Ms Tymoshenko said on Twitter.

"In fact I said: 'Russians in Ukraine are Ukrainians. Cheers to FSB," she said, referring to the Russian security service which she clearly believes were behind the bugging of the phone call.

"Apologies for the expletives," she added.

Ms Tymoshenko is heard speaking Russian. The ex-premier puts huge emphasis on speaking only Ukrainian in public even though she grew up speaking Russian.

Ms Tymoshenko is widely seen as the most charismatic figure in the fractured Ukrainian opposition movement.

However signs have emerged that she would have to fight hard to claw back support to return to big-time politics as opposition infighting intensifies ahead of a presidential election in May.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment on the leaked phone call.

"(She) conceded that part of it was genuine but I cannot say what is the truth and what is not," he said.

Russian officials did not mince words however.

"The old death cap (mushroom) is trying to keep up with young toadstools," tweeted Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, referring to a new generation of far-right anti-Moscow activists in Ukraine.

Two lawmakers with Russia's Communist party have formally asked investigators to conduct a probe into the leaked tape.

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