Tue, Mar 17, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Russia mulled Crimea nuclear alert

VIOLENT PROTESTS:Russian President Vladimir Putin said the nation was ready to put its nuclear weapons on alert after Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster

AP, MOSCOW

Activists gather around a mock tombstone with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin depicted like former Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler during a skit in front of the Russian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Sunday.

Photo: EPA

Russia was ready to bring its nuclear weapons into a state of alert during last year’s tensions over the Crimean Peninsula and the overthrow of Ukraine’s president, Russian President Vladimir Putin said in remarks aired on Sunday.

Putin also expanded on a previous admission that the well-armed forces in unmarked uniforms who took control of Ukrainian military facilities in Crimea were Russian soldiers.

Putin’s comments, in a documentary shown on state TV, highlight the extent to which alarm spread in Russia in the weeks following Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster in February last year after months of street protests that turned increasingly violent.

The documentary came as speculation swirled about Putin’s 10-day absence from public view. Yesterday he was due to meet with the president of Kyrgyzstan in an event covered by the news media, his first appearance before journalists since March 5.

After Yanukovych fled Kiev, eventually surfacing in Russia, separatist sentiment soared in Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula dominated by ethnic Russians.

Russian forces took control of Ukrainian military facilities on the peninsula and a referendum on secession was hastily called. The referendum, which was widely denounced in the West as illegitimate, reportedly brought overwhelming support for secession.

Russia annexed Crimea on March 19 last year.

In the documentary, which marks a year since the referendum, Putin said of the nuclear preparedness: “We were ready to do this ... [Crimea] is our historical territory. Russian people live there. They were in danger. We cannot abandon them.”

The comments were reported on the state broadcaster’s Web site after its transmission in the Russian Far East and before it appeared on the air in Moscow.

Putin said his plans for a Crimean operation started after Yanukovych fled.

“We never thought about severing Crimea from Ukraine until the moment that these events began, the government overthrow,” Putin said, repeating Russia’s contention that Yanukovych was the victim of a coup.

He said he called for a “closed opinion poll” of sentiment among Crimeans about whether to remain in Ukraine. He did not give details as to how this survey was conducted, but said: “It became clear that 75 percent of the general population desired to join Russia.”

Russia initially denied that the unmarked forces who took control in Crimea were Russian, but Putin later admitted they were. In the documentary, he said he ordered the Russian defense ministry to deploy military intelligence special forces, marines and paratroopers “under the cover of strengthening the protection of our military facilities.”

Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is based in Crimea — it retained the bases after the collapse of the Soviet Union under an agreement with Ukraine.

Putin claimed in the documentary that the number of Russian forces in Crimea never exceeded the 20,000 authorized under the agreement on basing the Black Sea Fleet there.

Putin also said Russian forces helped Yanukovych escape to Russia.

After fleeing the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Yanukovych made one appearance in Kharkov, then disappeared for several days. Reports at the time said he and his security entourage went on a desperate journey through the eastern parts of the country and down to Crimea, looking for safety.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top