Moscow was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure Russia’s annexation of Crimean peninsula from Ukraine last year in case of intervention by the US and its allies, the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, said in a pre-recorded documentary aired on Sunday. The documentary was broadcasted on Russian state television to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Kremlin’s seizure of the Black Sea peninsula.
The film featured an interview with Putin in which he admits “we were ready to do this” when asked about his willingness to ready Russia’s nuclear forces. Russian President said he sent military intelligence and elite navy marines in order to initiate the disarmament of 20,000 Ukrainian troops in Crimea. However, no specific date was given for the Putin interview.
He revealed that in order to take control of the peninsula, Russia deployed K-300P Bastion coastal defense missile “in a way that made them seen clearly from space” as a military deterrent to the perceived threat of attack from the West.
“Russian people live there,” Putin reminded of his feelings toward Crimea after the fall of pro-Russian regime in Ukraine. “They were in danger. We cannot abandon them.”
Putin also said that Russia helped save the life of Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovych, who he said had been in danger after protesters overthrew him in an armed coup “masterminded by our American friends” back in February 2014.
This is yet another Putin’s accusation of US orchestrating the crisis: “They helped training the nationalists, their armed groups, in Western Ukraine, in Poland and to some extent in Lithuania. They facilitated the armed coup.” Moreover, Putin called the US President Barack Obama’s administration “puppet-masters.”
Putin said Yanukovych had called on 21 February 2014 and said about his plans to leave Kyiv, where violent street protests had been raging for weeks. “I told him my point of view that, in such a situation, it’s best not to leave the capital,” said Putin. Then, Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine on February 22, eventually resurfacing in Rostov-on-Don, Russia.
Putin ordered its armed forces to be ready for any outcome
Putin, who has controlled Russia for 14 years, said his plans for a Crimean annexation started after Yanukovych fled. “We never thought about severing Crimea from Ukraine until the moment that these events began, the government overthrow,” he said, repeating his belief that Yanukovych was the victim of a coup.
So Putin ordered Russian forces to take control of Ukrainian military facilities on the peninsula, while a referendum on secession was called. The referendum was denounced in the West as illegitimate and ‘brought’ overwhelming support for secession. The final stage of the Russian annexation of Crimea was completed on March 19 2014.
“Of course it wasn’t immediately understandable (what the reaction would be to Crimea’s annexation). Therefore, in the first stages, I had to orient our armed forces. Not just orient, but give direct orders,” Putin added.
Russia wasn’t sure how the US and Europe would react, so Putin ordered its armed forces to be ready for any outcome, said the Russian President. “I spoke to colleagues and I told them that this is our historic territory, Russian people live there, they are in danger and we can’t abandon them. What do you want to fight for? You don’t know? We know. And we’re ready for that.”
Initially, Putin flatly denied sending troops to Crimea, saying that Russian military uniforms worn by the unmarked forces (“little green men”) who took control of Crimea could have been bought at any store. Last April, he said during a TV show that Russian servicemen had assisted local self-defense units.
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March last year triggered the worst geopolitical conflict with the US and Europe since the Cold War. The tension has further escalated during the Russian involvement in eastern Ukraine that’s killed over 6,000 people over the past year and counting. Despite the cease-fire agreement reached in Minsk on February 12, the US is still considering arming Ukrainian forces.
Out of Public View
The documentary comes as Vladimir Putin, 62, has not been seen in public or on live television since March 5, which is his longest absence from public view in more than two years, and leads to speculation over his health. However, the Kremlin officials, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, have repeatedly denied that Mr. Putin was ill, and insisted that he was “absolutely” healthy, adding that the president’s handshake was still so strong it could “break your hand”.
The independent news broadcaster Dozhd reportedly cited anonymous sources on Sunday saying the leader was recuperating from the flu in one of his country residences outside Moscow. Meanwhile, an Austrian newspaper reported, but didn’t say where it obtained the information, that Putin was suffering from back pain, and that a Viennese orthopedic expert had travelled to Russia to treat him.
The back pain thing is not something completely new. In 2012, three sources told Reuters that Vladimir Putin, who was briefly absent from public life and seen limping in public, was suffering from back pain. Putin then returned, with little explanation.
On Friday, the Kremlin announced a series of engagements for Putin this week, including a meeting with the Kyrgyz president Almazbek Atambayev in St. Petersburg today (on Monday) and South Ossetian President Leonid Tibilov in Moscow on Wednesday.
Putin’s former advisor, and now political commentator, Andrey Illarionov explained Putin’s 10-day absence from public view, saying that a coup is underway and Putin has been detained.
Anyway, Putin’s next public appearance is scheduled for today when he is set to meet with the Kyrgyz president in St. Petersburg, so we will find out more.
Stay tuned for more information.