Vladimir Putin considered putting nuclear forces on alert to ensure the annexation of Crimea last March. Speaking on state TV, the Russian president said he had "defended the interests" of the former Russian peninsula.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he considered activating nuclear forces to annex the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after the fall of a pro-Moscow government in Kyiv early last year.
"We were ready to do it," Putin said of putting nuclear forces at the ready, in a nearly three-hour documentary that aired on state television Sunday. The president added that he had fielded many calls from foreign leaders and told them "that this is our historical territory and Russian people live there, they were in danger, and we cannot abandon them." He said: "It was a frank and open position. And that is why I think no one was in the mood to start a world war."
In "Homeward Bound," Putin said Russia had saved the life of former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych after "revolutionaries" seized power following months of protests over his decision to back away from a trade agreement with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia.
"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, but also for his physical elimination," Putin said.
Eastern Ukraine has been locked in a civil war since Russia annexed Crimea following a referendum on March 16, 2014. Fighting between government troops and separatists has killed more than 6,000 people since last April. The war has also drawn in more than 100 Germans who have fought alongside the separatists.
According to Russia, more than 96 percent of Crimean residents voted to leave Ukraine last March. The UN General Assembly and several countries all condemned Russia's actions as a violation of international law.
"If you have the inner confidence that you are doing the right thing and that your actions aim to benefit the country and to defend the interests of the people of Russia, if this inner confidence is there, then everything will work out," Putin said in the documentary.
Chancellor Angela Merkel recently declined an invitation from Putin to attend Russia's Victory Day ceremonies in Moscow on May 8, commemorating the defeat of the Nazis to end World War II in Europe. Merkel will, however, participate in a different observation there the next day.
Putin hasn't appeared in public or on live television since March 5, prompting rumors over his health and his grip on power. Kremlin officials, however, have denied the rumors and have said the president remains healthy.
mkg/cmk (Reuters, AFP)