Moments before his attack on Ukraine began Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent a stern warning — possibly alluding to the use of nuclear force — to the United States and its NATO allies to stay away from eastern Europe.
“Whoever tries to interfere with us, and even more so to create threats for our country, for our people should know that Russia’s response will be immediate and will lead to such consequences that you have never experienced in your history,” Putin said. “We are ready for any development of events. All necessary decisions in this regard have been made.”
Putin greenlighted an all-out attack on neighboring Ukraine as missiles struck near the capital city of Kyiv while troops marched across its borders and arrived via the Black and Azov seas.
NATO is preparing to respond with crippling sanctions that will ultimately “hobble” Russia’s economy.
The Russian president, who has made it known that he does not want the influence of NATO spreading near Russia’s borders in eastern Europe, is using the false threat of neo-Nazism as the main reason why he is carrying out the invasion of Ukraine.
On Tuesday, Putin recognized the breakaway republics in Ukraine’s Luhansk and Donetsk regions as independent entities where he promised to send troops to “demilitarize” and “denazify” Ukraine — making it only a matter of time before the invasion began, which it did two days later.
[MORE ON VLADIMIR PUTIN: Why did Russia invade Ukraine?]
In what he described as a move of self-defense, Putin spoke directly to opposing Ukrainian forces, calling them “comrade officers.”
“Your fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine,” Putin said. “You swore the oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people and not to the junta, the people’s adversary which is plundering Ukraine and humiliating the Ukrainian people.
“I urge you to refuse to carry out their criminal orders. I urge you to immediately lay down arms and go home. I will explain what this means: the military personnel of the Ukrainian army who do this will be able to freely leave the zone of hostilities and return to their families.”
While the Ukrainian National Guard is home to the Azov Battalion, which is a force that consists of neo-Nazis, there is no evidence that neo-Nazism has grown any sort of roots in the country — as seen in the zero representation of far-right ideology in the 450-seat Rada, which is the country’s sole legislative power.
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust, shot down any accusation of his country being overrun by neo-Nazis.
“You are told we are Nazis. But could a people who lost more than 8 million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism?” Zelensky asked (h/t Politico). “How can I be a Nazi? Explain it to my grandfather, who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army, and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.”