Putin also said that Russia had saved the life of Ukraine’s former pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, who he said had been in danger after ‘revolutionaries’ seized power following weeks of violent street protests in Kiev last year.
“For us it became clear and we received information that there were plans not only for his capture, but, preferably for those who carried out the coup, but also for his physical elimination. As one famous historical figure said: ‘No person, no problem’,” Putin said.
Protests over Yanukovich’s decision to back away from a trade agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow forced him from power in February last year. Yanukovich’s overthrow ultimately prompted Russia to seize and annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.
“Of course it wasn’t immediately understandable (what the reaction would be to Crimea’s annexation). Therefore, in the first stages, I had to orient our armed forces. Not just orient, but give direct orders,” he said.
When asked if he had been ready to put Russia’s nuclear forces on alert, he said: “We were ready to do it.”