Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that an incident involving a British destroyer in the Black Sea could not have sparked a global conflict even if Russia had sunk the warship because the West knows it cannot not win such a war.
The harsh statement seemed to indicate his determination to raise the stakes if a similar incident happened again.
Speaking on a marathon broadcast, Putin also revealed that he had received the nationally produced Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine and urged Russians to get the vaccine as the country battles a devastating wave of cases and death amid widespread reluctance to get vaccinated.
Putin was asked about the June 23 incident in the Black Sea, in which Russia said one of its warships fired warning shots and a warplane dropped bombs on the path of the British HMS Defender to force it to leave an area near Crimea which Moscow claims as its water territory. He said a US reconnaissance plane joined what he described as a “provocation” to test Russia’s response.
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Britain, which like most other countries did not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, insisted the Defender was not targeted and said that he was sailing in Ukrainian waters. “HMS Defender was making an innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law,” the UK Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
The US Department of Defense made no immediate comment on Putin’s claim that a US long-range reconnaissance aircraft that took off from the Greek island of Crete was operating in concert with the British ship.
When asked if events could have sparked a world war, Putin replied that the West would not risk full-scale conflict.
“Even if we had sunk this ship, it would be hard to imagine that it would put the world on the brink of World War III because those who do know that they cannot come out victorious in this war, and that is very important, Putin said. The statement follows warning from Russian authorities that if a Western warship re-enters the waters, the military could shoot at it.
Putin accused the apparent mission of the US plane to monitor the Russian military’s response to the British destroyer.
“It was clearly a provocation, a complex provocation involving not only the British but also the Americans,” he said, adding that Moscow was aware of US intentions and reacted accordingly to avoid revealing sensitive data.
The Russian leader lamented that the move closely followed his summit with US President Joe Biden in Geneva this month.
“The world is undergoing radical change,” he said. “Our American partners are realizing this, and that is why the Geneva meeting was held. But on the other hand, they are trying to secure their monopoly position, which results in threats and destructive actions such as exercises, provocations and sanctions. “
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Even though the West does not recognize Crimea as part of Russia, Putin said the naval incident took the controversy to a new level.
“They don’t recognize something – OK, they can continue to refuse to recognize it,” he said. “But why make such provocations?
Putin insisted that Russia will stand up for its interests firmly.
“We are fighting for ourselves and for our future in our own territory,” he said. “It was not we who traveled thousands of kilometers (miles) to come to them; it was they who came to our borders and violated our territorial waters.”
Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, warned that last week’s Black Sea incident portended a new level of riskier confrontation.
“Further attempts to expose the Russian ‘red line’ deterrent as hollow – whether on the ground, in the air or at sea – would push Moscow to defend what it cannot give up without losing its self-esteem.” , Trenin said in a comment. “This would almost inevitably lead to clashes and casualties, which would entail the risk of further escalation. If that happened, the Russia-NATO confrontation would literally deteriorate to the point of being on the brink, a scenario really dark.”
Putin also reaffirmed on Wednesday his assertion of a close kinship between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples, but accused Kiev of hostility towards Russia and questioned the value of a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, calling it western pawn.
“Why meet Zelensky if he has placed his country under full foreign control and the key issues for Ukraine are not decided in Kiev but in Washington and, to some extent, in Paris and Berlin?” Putin asked.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba retorted by tweeting that Putin wanted Ukraine’s problems resolved in Moscow. “This is our country and it is up to us to decide our fate,” he added.
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Earlier this year, Russia stepped up its forces near Ukraine and warned that Moscow could intervene if Kiev used force to reclaim areas in the east controlled by Russian-backed separatists since a conflict there erupted in 2014. Moscow then withdrew troops, but Ukrainian authorities said most of them remained near the border.
Putin spent most of the four-hour “Direct Line” show discussing domestic issues – typical of the tightly choreographed annual rite that helps him polish his image as a leader who cares deeply about the needs of the people. It did not include any questions about the besieged opposition of Russia and Putin’s most important political enemy, Alexei Navalny, who is in prison.
He expressed hope the country could avoid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown amid a wave of new infections. Deaths reported in Russia hit a daily record on Wednesday, with authorities reporting 669, but Putin said decisions by regional officials to make vaccinations mandatory for some workers should help.
Russia has recorded more than 20,000 new cases of coronavirus and around 600 deaths every day since June 24. As of Wednesday, 21,042 new infections were recorded.
Russian officials attribute the June outbreak to Russians lax attitude to taking precautions, more infectious variants and a low vaccination rate, which experts attribute to widespread reluctance to get vaccinated and limited vaccine production. Although Russia was among the first countries to roll out a vaccine, just over 15% of the population received at least one injection.
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Amid this hesitation, Putin revealed that he had received the Sputnik V vaccine. Putin got his first vaccine in late March out of public view and has remained silent on the vaccine he chose.
On other issues, Putin said Russia has no plans to ban Western social media platforms, but stressed that the government just wants them to obey the law, quickly remove inappropriate content and open offices in Russia.
“We tell them, ‘You are putting out child pornography, or instructions on (how to commit) suicide, or how to make Molotov cocktails.… You have to take it off,’ and they just don’t listen, don’t I don’t want to listen to what we tell them, ”Putin said. “But it’s wrong.”
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