MOSCOW, Feb. 14 – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday threatened to target Ukraine with nuclear missiles should Kiev allow NATO bases on its soil following its planned accession to the alliance.
The warning comes two days after Putin’s three-hour one-on-one meeting with President Viktor Yushchenko in the Kremlin, which averted an earlier-threatened Russian natural gas supply cutoff on Tuesday.
“We will be forced to re-target our missiles at objects that we believe may threaten our security,” Putin said at a press conference in Moscow. “I have to say about that today directly and honestly to prevent speculation in the future.”
Russia’s threat to aim the missiles at Ukraine, the country that even Putin has previously described as “the brotherly nation,” underscores the aggressive rhetoric and growing militancy in the Kremlin.
Russia last year promised to target its missies at Poland and the Czech Republic if the two countries allow construction of a U.S. anti-missile complex, which is to include high-precision radar and 10 interceptor missiles.
Washington said the complex is aimed at countering the threat of possible Iranian missile attack and would not be able to overcome thousands of Russian ballistic missiles.
Putin’s latest remarks did not surprise Ukraine, a sign that the issue had been already raised and discussed at the Yushchenko-Putin meeting in Moscow on Tuesday.
“This is the right of the Russian Federation to state its position,” Oleksandr Chaliy, Yushchenko’s chief foreign policy aide, said at a press conference on Thursday.
“The very fact that the Russian president clearly articulates his position shows that we have been talking openly, honestly,” Chaliy said. “Each party understands the steps the other party would undertake if any actions are taken.”
Putin’s remark is apparently aimed at discouraging Ukraine from joining NATO. It comes a month after Kiev has officially requested Brussels a permission to join the Membership Action Plan, a program precedes the accession to the alliance, in April.
Putin argued the request comes in contrast with position of the majority of Ukrainians.
“According to information that I have, the majority of Ukrainians are against joining NATO, but the Ukrainian leadership has taken course and has signed the paper to start the accession,” Putin said. “Is this a democracy? Who asked the people of that country whether they want it?”
Yushchenko said the accession to NATO would come only after the move is approved by the people at a referendum.
“There is no threat to Russia from the territory of Ukraine,” Foreign Minister Volodymyr Ohryzko said Thursday adding that Ukraine has voluntarily gotten rid of the world’s third biggest nuclear arsenal following the break-up of the former Soviet Union.
Martin Wolf, a political commentator for the Financial Times, said: “The political divergence between Ukraine, increasingly free, and Russia, increasingly despotic, is as clear as it is disturbing.”
“The KGB-state is unable to understand that fear and respect are antitheses, not synonyms,” Wolf said in remarks posted on his blog at FT.com. “Mr Putin has made no secret of his regrets about the collapse of the Soviet empire and his resentment at the subsequent expansion of the European Union and, even more, of NATO.”
“What seems absent from his discourse is why these countries, so familiar with beneficent Russian rule, should have handed over their futures to bodies whose central powers are Germany and the US, respectively,” Wolf said.
“Let us rid ourselves of illusions. This is no new cold war, but it is a cold peace. That is a tragedy. It is also a reality. It is one the West must live with, probably for a long time to come.” (tl/ez)