Crimean head Sergei Aksenov said that Crimea will welcome the deployment of nuclear weapons in the republic if Russian President Vladimir Putin deems it necessary.
SIMFEROPOL (Sputnik) – Crimea will welcome the deployment of nuclear weapons in the republic if Russian President Vladimir Putin deems it necessary, Crimean head Sergei Aksenov told Sputnik.
“If there is such an order from the supreme commander, we would support it,” Aksenov said.
On Wednesday, the chair of Russian State Duma Defense Committee, Vladimir Komoyedov, said that needed, Russia was ready to place nuclear weapons in Crimea.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed on Wednesday speculations by US billionaire Donald Trump and the Western media of “nuclear rhetoric” in Putin’s remarks in a documentary on Crimea’s reunification with Russia that was aired last week. The media claimed that Putin had said in the documentary that Russia was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to protect Crimea and the Crimeans against potential aggression.
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Crimea rejoined Russia in March 2014, after 96 percent of the peninsula’s population voted in favor of a reunification deal.
In a speech following the referendum, Russian President Putin pointed out that it was held in full compliance with democratic procedure and international rule of law.
The West has refused to recognize the results of the vote, labeling Crimea’s secession an “annexation,” and have introduced several rounds of economic sanctions against Moscow.
An Azov Battalion sergeant has confessed to USA Today of praising Nazi ideology. He also pledged a march on the Ukrainian capital after the war. A spokesman for the pro-Kiev brigade insists this is a ‘personal choice’ of no more than a fifth of the unit.
USA Today visited the Azov Battalion stationed in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol and spoke to a number of servicemen of the unit, which is sponsored by Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoysky.
A drill sergeant who identified himself as Alex told the newspaper that he supports Nazi-style strong leadership for Ukraine but does not share Nazis’ genocide agenda against Jews, as long as minorities “don’t demand special privileges.”
Alex insisted that once the war is over, he and others from the Azov Battalion will go back to Kiev to oust the corrupt government and nationalize the property of wealthy oligarchs.
Officers of higher ranks in the battalion denied the presence of a large number of neo-Nazis among servicemen.
“I know Alex is a Nazi, but it’s his personal ideology. It has nothing to do with the official ideology of the Azov,” said Andrey Dyachenko, a spokesman for the Azov Battalion. However, he did state that “only 10 percent to 20 percent of the group’s members are Nazis.”
The Azov Battalion’s deputy commander, Oleg Odnorozhenko, insisted that the drill sergeant does not speak for the group. “If he has his own sympathies, it’s his own matter,” Odnorozhenko said, adding that Alex “will be dealt with severely for his lack of discipline.”
“Ideas like going to Kiev to change the government in an illegal way should be nipped in the bud,” Odnorozhenko said, adding that Alex is a “good drill sergeant and a good instructor for tactics and weapons skills,” so his future in the unit is probably as bright as it gets.
A member of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in Kiev, Col. Oleksy Nozdrachov, defended the Azov fighters as patriots. “They are volunteers who decided to sacrifice their lives to the country,” he said.
“They are tough and fierce in battle who stand and fight and won’t give up soil.”
Kiev-controlled volunteer battalions and the Ukrainian Security Service are involved in an increasing number of human rights violations, including torture and forced disappearances of those suspected of “separatism,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a December 2014 report.
The report – which covered a period of just one month, from November 1-30 – said the Office of the Military Prosecutor had not taken any actions to investigate the “considerable” number of allegations of human rights violations, “including looting, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment by members of certain voluntary battalions such as Aidar, Azov, Slobozhanshchina and Shakhtarsk.”
In September last year, another international report confirmed that war crimes – including abductions, executions, and extortion – were committed by the Ukrainian Aidar volunteer battalion in the Lugansk region in eastern Ukraine.
The recent interview is not the first time that Ukraine battalion volunteers have openly supported Nazi ideology. Last year, troops from the Ukrainian Azov and Donbass battalions were reportedly noticed wearing swastikas and SS badges.
According to a video on German TV station ZDF, Ukrainian soldiers were shown wearing swastikas and the “SS runes” of Adolph Hitler’s elite corps. The footage was shot by a camera team from Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
A year ago, BBC Newsnight journalist Gabriel Gatehouse visited Kiev to investigate the links between the new Ukrainian government and Neo-nazis. Having reported “groups of armed men strut through the [Maidan] square with dubious iconography” – including German symbols used by SS divisions during WWII – the British journalistic investigation found that “the most organized and perhaps the most effective were a small number of far right groups,” adding that “when it came to confrontation with the police, it was often the nationalists who were the loudest and the most violent.”
“National Socialist themes are popular amongst some of us…I like the idea of one nation. A clean nation…Not like under Hitler, but in our own way, a little bit like that,” a member of Ukraine’s Right Sector told the BBC reporter, who concluded that “the influence of the far right in Ukraine is growing.”
In February, Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh said the party’s paramilitary units in eastern Ukraine will continue “active fighting” despite the ceasefire, as the radical movement did not recognize the Minsk peace deal agreed upon by Ukraine, France, Germany, and Russia after 16 hours of talks.
Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed US was to send Ukraine more non-lethal military aid, including drones and armored Humvees.
“We are today providing immediately some 75 million dollars of additional non-lethal assistance, immediately, to Ukraine in order to help them in non-lethal assistance,” Kerry told the Senate on Wednesday afternoon during a hearing concerning a proposed war powers act offered by the White House. “And, as you know, other things are currently under consideration.”
The aid has been discussed on the phone by Vice President Joe Biden and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko during a phone call, according to US officials, AP reported.
The aid package includes the small Raven drone system, which can be launched by hand, radios, counter mortar radars, 30 heavily armored Humvees and 200 regular ones.
READ MORE: ‘We should absolutely consider lethal aid’ to Ukraine – US Gen. Martin Dempsey
Washington and other NATO allies have spent in excess of $100 million in security aid to Ukraine, although until now this has been primarily of a non-lethal nature.
“We have over the last 14 months provided $118 million in security assistance” to the Ukrainian authorities, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs earlier this month.
The US also announced earlier in March that they were planning to send about 300 military advisors to train the Ukrainian army from March through October.
US boosting ‘anti-propaganda’ budget, mulling ‘increase of lethality’ for Ukraine support – Nuland
The UK also announced that it will send 75 British military personnel in March who will offer medical, intelligence and infantry training to the Ukrainian army. Poland has also said it is sending military advisors to Ukraine.
Sergey Ryabkov, a deputy Russian foreign minister, said in February that supplying weapons to Ukraine would “escalate the whole situation” and “would be a major blow to the Minsk agreements.”
Russia believes the best chance for peace in Ukraine lies in the Minsk ceasefire agreement, which largely appears to be holding.
“It’s extremely important that the authorities in Kiev have agreed to carry out a deep constitutional reform, to satisfy a desire for self-rule in certain regions – whether that reform is called decentralization, autonomization or federalization. This is the deeper meaning of the Minsk accords,” said President Putin.
About 5,000 servicemen and 400 units of military equipment will be involved in the “Joint Viking” exercises that kick off on Monday in the north of Norway, not far from the Russian border.
MURMANSK (Sputnik) – The drills are the largest to take place in the region since 1967, Lt. Col. Aleksander Jankov, a spokesman for the Norwegian Armed Forces, said in an interview with Nordlys, a local newspaper, adding that all types of weapons will be used in the exercises.
According to Jankov, Lakselv and Alta (located in Norway’s Finnmark county) will be the main sites of the drills. Finnmark is in the extreme northeastern part of Norway and borders the Russian Murmansk Region.
Norway, alongside NATO, suspended all military cooperation with Moscow following Crimea’s reunification with Russia in March of last year. NATO has been accusing Russia of interfering in the conflict in Ukraine’s southeast and claiming that Russia has been helping independence supporters in their fight against Kiev forces.
The claims have not been proven with any factual evidence and Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in Ukraine’s internal affairs.
Russia has also expressed concern over NATO’s expansion eastward and the buildup of NATO forces along its borders, which the alliance launched last spring, amid the Ukrainian conflict.
NATO is using the situation in Ukraine to push closer to Russia’s border, according to the Russian deputy defense minister. He says the Alliance’s activities have expanded considerably over the past years.
In their push, Anatoly Antonov says Allied forces are ignoring diplomacy.
“We’ve noticed that NATO member states are using the situation in southeastern Ukraine as a pretext to discard all diplomatic conventions, tricks and slogans and push forward, closer to the Russian border.”
According to the minister, what NATO is doing is completely out of proportion with what NATO commanders call the build-up of Russian forces on its side of the border in Ukraine. “NATO’s activities are many times greater than Russia’s.”
However, he added they aren’t a threat to Russia’s security.
All of this is being done to restrain Russia and punish it for refusing to play along with rules set by the West, according to the official.
“Instead of uniting forces to fight evil, the worst of which is terrorism, Western nations are drawing new divisive lines, trying to realize containment schemes against unwelcome states. Today, Russia has been chosen as the target.”
He added that NATO currently can’t be considered the pillar of world freedom and security it is cracked up to be.
All this doesn’t bode well for relations between the US and Russia, Antonov said.
“Throughout my military and diplomatic career, I haven’t seen another period when Russian-American relations have been so difficult.”
The activities he was referring to include massive wargames in Eastern Europe and naval exercises in the Black Sea. On Wednesday, warships from the US, Turkey, Italy, Canada and Romania started drills there.
Another example is the NATO military parade on February 24, held just 300 meters from the Russian border, in the Estonian town of Narva. About 140 pieces of armor and 10 times as many troops, including US soldiers, took part in that event.
Moscow saw it as a stab in its direction, but Estonia defended its right to host a parade, saying it can move military whichever way it likes on its territory – the same argument used by Russia when accused of military build-up along its borders.
The US is sending 600 paratroopers to Ukraine by the end of this week. US 173rd Airborne Brigade Commander Colonel Michael Foster announced this at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC on Monday.
The forces will stay there for six months, with the stated goal of training the Ukrainian National Guard. However, the operation could grow bigger.
“Initially, the plan is to go for six months,” said Colonel Foster. “There have been discussions on how to increase both the duration of that event and the scope, the other things the US can assist with from a military perspective.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aleksandr Lukashevich, said on Thursday that 300 American troops are already in Ukraine, training local servicemen near the city of Lvov.
The Ukrainian Defense ministry has denied Russia’s claims of US military instructors already being in the country.
“We don’t confirm this. It is the news from 12 years ago. Today it’s a fake,” the ministry’s spokeswoman,Viktoria Kushnir, told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
The spokesman for a region Defense Ministry media-center in Lvov, Aleksandr Poronyuk, also said the information “doesn’t correspond with reality.”
When asked if the training program will be used to send lethal aid to Ukraine should the US decide to do so, Colonel Foster said a “secondary method” will be used for that.
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the US push to give lethal aid to Kiev especially “in light of the rather successful implementation of ceasefire agreements reached on February 12.”
“Weapon supplies may cause not only the failure of the ceasefire and a new escalation of violence in the south east (of Ukraine), but also pose a threat to Russia’s security,” Lukashevich stressed.