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Putin Was 'Ready For Nuclear Alert'

  • RFE/RL

A woman looks at Russian President Vladimir Putin on screen as she watches the documentary Crimea: Path To The Homeland on March 15.

A woman looks at Russian President Vladimir Putin on screen as she watches the documentary Crimea: Path To The Homeland on March 15.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, speaking in a prerecorded documentary about Russia's seizure of Crimea, said he was prepared to put Russia's nuclear weapons on alert during tensions over the crisis in Ukraine and Crimea.

Putin said in the documentary that he was "ready to do this," when asked if Russia's nuclear forces could be put on standby.

The nearly three-hour documentary, Crimea: Path To The Homeland, was aired on March 15.

Putin said in the film he was unsure if the West would intervene militarily to stop Russia's takeover of Crimea in March 2014 but he was ready for "the worst possible turn of events."

He added that he received many calls from foreign leaders telling him to stop Russian actions in Crimea but he told them it was "our historical territory," that the Russian people living there "were in danger and we cannot abandon them."

Putin said because his reply was so "frank and open" no country "was in the mood to start a world war."

The film depicted the annexation of Crimea as both a highly successful, well-planned security operation with Putin at the controls and a forced response to concerns about the fate of the region and its people following Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's loss of power in Kyiv.

In the film, Putin claimed Yanukovych's life life was in danger as a result of what he called a "revolution" by forces he said set out to seize power in Kyiv.

Putin said: "For us it became clear and we received information that there were plans not only for his capture, but preferably for those who carried out the coup, also for his physical elimination."

Putin added, "As one famous historical figure said: no person, no problem" -- a statement ascribed to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

Yanukovych's sudden decision in November 2013 to back away from a key agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow prompted huge protests in Kyiv, known as the Euromaidan, and he fled to Russia in February 2014 as his grip on power collapsed.

Putin said that Russia had saved the lives of Yanukovych and his family and calling it a "good deed."

Putin has not been seen in public or on live television since March 5, prompting a wave of speculation about his whereabouts and mockery across the Internet, despite official insistence that it was business as usual in the Kremlin.

Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the Russian leader would watch the documentary, Crimea: Path To The Homeland, when it airs at 10:00 p.m. Moscow time on March 15.

The documentary marks a year since the widely questioned March 16, 2014, referendum in Crimea that supported its secession from Ukraine.

The referendum has been widely denounced as illegitimate and Russia's annexation of Crimea just days after the referendum was condemned by dozens of countries and declared to be illegal in an overwhelming vote by the UN General Assembly.

In the documentary, Putin accused the United States of being "puppeteers" behind what he described as a coup against Yanukovych -- assertions the United States has dismissed as false.

"Formally, the opposition was primarily supported by Europeans, but we knew very well… that the real puppeteers were our American partners and friends. It was they who helped prepare nationalists [and] combat troops," Putin said.

A trailer of the documentary broadcast on March 8 has already prompted Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk to urge the International Tribunal in The Hague to consider the footage as evidence of Russia's premeditated invasion of Crimea.

Putin initially denied sending troops to Crimea, and Russian officials have frequently described the annexation of Crimea as a response to the will of the people there.

But in the film, Putin said he told senior security officials of his decision to take Crimea just hours after Yanukovych abandoned power.

Putin described an emergency Kremlin meeting he said ended about 7 a.m. on February 23, 2014.

"As we were parting, I told all my colleagues: We will have to start work to return Crimea to Russia," Putin said.

Putin said he later ordered military intelligence forces, marines, and paratroopers to Crimea "under the guise of strengthening the security of our military facilities there" but with the actual aim of surrounding and disarming what he said were 20,000 Ukrainian troops.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, Interfax, TASS, AFP, and The New York Times
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