Russian President Vladimir Putin was willing to ready Russia's nuclear arsenal during last year's conflict over Crimea, he reportedly said in a pre-recorded documentary broadcast on Russian state television on Sunday to mark the one-year anniversary of Moscow's takeover of the Black Sea peninsula.
"We were ready to do this," Putin reportedly said when asked about nuclear preparedness. "I talked with colleagues and told them that [Crimea] is our historical territory. Russian people live there. They were in danger. We cannot abandon them."
The New York Times reports:
The documentary, called "Homeward Bound," was produced by the state-run Rossiya 1 channel to celebrate the anniversary of the March 21, 2014, annexation of Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that was given to Ukraine in 1954 when both were a part of the Soviet Union.
The film presented the events as a triumph of security planning and execution, with Mr. Putin at its heart. Throughout the documentary, which ran for two and a half hours, Mr. Putin tried both to justify the move—which most Western nations considered outside international law and led to economic sanctions that have magnified Russia’s current, oil-related recession—and to boast about it.
Putin added that the wheels of the Crimean annexation were put in motion in response to the abrupt manner in which then-President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine was overthrown.
The Times points out that, "Before now, Mr. Putin had emphasized that he had felt compelled to act after the overwhelming majority of Crimeans approved a referendum on joining Russia."
According to CNN, he told the filmmakers he was certain the United States was behind the ouster of Yanukovych, which Moscow views as an illegal armed coup.
"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 them who helped prepare nationalists [and] combat troops," he reportedly said in the film.
The revelations underscore warnings about how relatively "pedestrian disputes," as investigative journalist Robert Parry describes them, between Russia, Ukraine, and the West have the potential to quickly escalate into nuclear war.
"The United States and Russia still maintain vast nuclear arsenals of mutual assured destruction, putting the future of humanity in jeopardy every instant," Parry wrote earlier this month. "But an unnerving nonchalance has settled over the American side which has become so casual about the risk of cataclysmic war that the West’s propaganda and passions now ignore Russian fears and sensitivities."
Parry noted that "at such crisis moments, the people responsible for the U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons are more likely to read a possible computer glitch or some other false alarm as a genuine launch and are thus more likely to push their own nuclear button."
Putin has been mysteriously absent from the public eye since March 5, spurring rumors about his health and whereabouts. However, the Russian president was scheduled to meet on Monday meet with the president of Kyrgyzstan in an event covered by the news media.
Also on Monday, Russia's Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said Putin had ordered Russia's Northern Fleet and other military units to be placed on full combat alert for drills and inspections, according to reports.
"The main aim...is to evaluate the capabilities of the Northern Fleet to fulfill tasks on ensuring Russia's military security in the Arctic," Shoigu is quoted as saying by Russia's Tass news agency, which added that the exercise will involve 38,000 military personnel, 41 warships, 15 submarines, and 110 planes and helicopters.