At a joint press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned of nuclear war if Ukraine joins NATO and seeks to regain control of Crimea.
“I want to stress it one more time, I’ve been saying it, but I’d very much want you to finally hear me, and to deliver it to your audience in print, TV and online,” Putin said Monday in Moscow. “Do you understand it or not, that if Ukraine joins NATO and attempts to bring Crimea back by military means, the European countries will be automatically pulled into a war conflict with Russia?”
Macron’s meeting with Putin came amid a diplomatic standoff, with 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.
Putin said at the news conference he understood that NATO has a much more powerful military force.
“But we also understand that Russia is one of the leading nuclear states, and by some modern components it even outperforms many,” he said.
“There will be no winners. And you will be pulled into this conflict against your will,” Putin warned.
“You won’t even have time to blink your eye when you execute Article 5,” which provides that if a NATO member suffers an armed attack, the other members will assist.
“Mr President Macron, of course, doesn’t want this,” the Russian leader continued. “And I don’t want it. And I don’t want it … which is why he is here, torturing me for six straight hours.”
But Putin, asserting Russia’s historic hegemony in the region, long has insisted that moving NATO eastward and making Ukraine a member would be a provocation. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is among the Western leaders who argue Ukraine is a sovereign state with the right to form any alliance it wishes.
Not the first use of nuclear threats
During the Obama administration in February and March 2014 – when Biden, as vice president, was overseeing U.S. relations with Ukraine – Russia invaded and later annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine.
Putin argued the move was an act of self-determination on behalf of the Russian people living in the region.
The Russian leader at the time also used nuclear threats, along with an increased military presence, to solidify Russia’s hold on the territory.
The invasion of Crimea followed the popular Euromaidan protests in Kiev against the Russian-backed Ukrainian government’s suspension of the signing of an agreement with the European Union. The civil unrest led to the ouster of Russian-backed President Viktor Yanukovych.
Crimea became part of the Russian Empire in 1783. Under the communist USSR, it initially was part of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1954, after Stalin’s death, the Crimean Oblast was transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Ukraine’s union with Russia.
The transfer became an issue after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Ukraine became an independent nation.
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