bne IntelliNews -
Russian President Vladimir Putin has confirmed in a new documentary on the annexation of the Crimea what was widely assumed but always denied by the Kremlin and its supporters: that Russia sent in unmarked soldiers, the so-called "little green men" of world media reports, and de facto took the peninsula by force.
In the three-hour documentary, "Crimea: Path To The Homeland", broadcast on Russia's First Channel on March 15, Putin explained that troops, inlcuding special forces, were sent in to protect Russian military personal stationed in the disputed peninsular, which was transferred to Ukraine's territory in 1954.
“We monitored the situation and had to bring in our equipment,” Putin said. “[Russian troops already stationed in Crimea] would have been wiped out after the first salvo.”
Putin has not been seen in the flesh for more than a week, sending Russia watchers into a tizzy of speculation over what may have happened to him. However, the missing president made a number of key confessions in the pre-recorded documentary.
Top of the list was his admission that the soldiers wearing unmarked uniforms that appeared across Crimea in the run-up to a rushed referendum on secession were indeed Russian regular forces. A long-standing treaty with Ukraine allowed Russia to station just over 20,000 troops in Russian military bases on the peninsular. But ahead of the vote these soldiers moved out into the streets and towns, creating an atmosphere in which international observers said a free and fair vote on secession could not be held.
Putin also said that he had been prepared to go to the brink over Crimea – including putting Russia's nuclear weapons on stand-by – and faced down a welter of calls from Western leaders during the annexation. He responded by saying Crimea was "our historical territory", that Russians living there "were in danger and we cannot abandon them", but because he was so direct added that, "no country was in the mood to start a war" with Russia over Crimea.
The documentary was aimed at the domestic audience and was replete with what has become the standard rhetorical position for the Kremlin: he blamed the US for masterminding the Maidan protests in Ukraine and the subsequent "coup" that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, calling Washington the "puppeteers".
"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 they who helped prepare nationalists [and] combat troops," Putin said, adding that he ordered the Russian security services to prepare to take over Crimea the day after Yanukovych fled the country. Russia's goal was to secure control over its main warm water naval port in Sevastopol.
Russia's economy has slowed dramatically in recent months after the imposition of Western economic sanctions. The Central Bank of Russia (CBR) is predicting the economy will shrink by at least 5% this year, but Putin has been effectively playing the nationalist card and has seen his popularity hit record highs of over 80%. Anti-American sentiment in Russia has also soared to a post-Soviet high of over 80%.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called on the International Tribunal in The Hague to take the documentary as evidence of Russia's premeditated invasion of Crimea, which is illegal under international law. He has also called for tougher sanctions on Russia.
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