You can take Vladimir Putin's picture off the milk carton today.
The Russian president reappeared in public for the first time in 10 days on Monday, attending a meeting with the president of Kyrgyzstan in St. Petersburg. The Russian leader deflected reporters’ questions about his whereabouts, saying only, “It’s boring without rumors.”
Putin’s reappearance coincided with several reports sure to raise tensions among his neighbors. Putin put Russia’s Northern Fleet, as well as associated airborne troops and other military units, on full alert as part of a readiness drill aimed at potential conflict in the Arctic, a region where Russia has become more assertive in recent months.
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Also on Monday, Russian media released a documentary film about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula last year. Putin reveals he’d been prepared to put his considerable nuclear forces on alert at the time.
"We were ready to do it,” Putin said in the interview in the film. “I talked with colleagues and told them that [Crimea] is our historic territory, Russian people live there, they are in danger, we cannot leave them.”
One of Russia’s pretenses for invading Crimea and for supporting an ongoing armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine was the ostensible threat to ethnic Russians living there.
Putin also directly accused the U.S. of organizing the Maidan uprising which, early last year, ended with former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country.
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“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 said, according to CNN.
In the film, Putin is reportedly forthright about his personal involvement with the invasion of Crimea, saying he ordered it personally and managed it throughout. At the time, the Russian president made public statements in which is claimed, falsely, that Russia had sent no troops to Crimea, and that the thousands of armed men in insignia-free Russian uniforms who appeared throughout the region were independent actors.
The announcement of another major military exercise, and the admission that he was prepared to take the initial steps toward a nuclear response over Crimea, will no doubt crank up the tension in Europe, where Russia’s neighbors have become increasingly nervous about the Kremlin’s increasingly aggressive posture. Last week, the president of the European Commission called for the creation of a Pan-European army designed specifically to serve as a counterweight to Russia.
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