Putin: Russia prepared raising nuclear readiness over Crimea

ADDS THAT RUSSIAN NEWS AGENCIES REPORTED THAT THE MEETING WAS HELD AT AN EARLIER DATE In this image supplied by the Presidential Press Service Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with the regional leader of Karelia in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 . The Kremlin’s press service attempted to dispel the rumors about Putin’s health Wednesday by issuing a photo of a meeting between Putin and the regional governor of Karelia. However, local news agencies had reported on the meeting as early as March 5. Russian news agency RBC cited an anonymous source in the Karelian governor’s office as saying that the meeting had actually taken place March 4. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Alexei Druzhinin, Presidential Press Service)

By JIM HEINTZ, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — 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, President Vladimir Putin said in remarks aired on Sunday.

Putin’s comments, in a documentary being 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 2014 after months of street protests that turned increasingly violent.

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, 2014.

In the documentary, which marks a year since the referendum, Putin says 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 website after its transmission in the Russian Far East and before it appeared on the air in Moscow.

Putin also said Russian forces helped Yanukovych escape to Russia.

After fleeing the 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. Putin’s retelling appeared to confirm those reports.

He said Russian security forces had tried to keep contact with Yanukovych as he moved through Ukraine and eventually “we brought him to Russian territory.”

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