UKRAINE has warned that it could build nuclear weapons to combat Russia if the West does not allow it to join NATO.
This comes as Vladimir Putin has deployed tens of thousands of troops and tanks to the Ukrainian border in a worrying escalation of tensions.
Ukraine was formerly a nuclear state with 176 ballistic missiles and 44 strategic bombers following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
However, the country agreed to eliminate its nukes in return for legally-binding security guarantees from Britain, the US and Russia.
But with Putin threatening to invade, seven years after he annexed Crimea using armed militias, Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnik said the country is considering all its options.
He said: “Ukraine has no other choice – either we are part of an alliance such as NATO and are doing our part to make this Europe stronger, or we have the only option – to arm by ourselves and maybe think about nuclear status again.
“How else can we guarantee our defence?”
He added: “We must do everything possible to ensure that Putin will not attack us tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. “
NATO is an alliance of western powers that was set up in the aftermath of World War II to combat the threat of the Soviet Union.
Mr Melnik said that had Ukraine been a NATO member in 2014, then the annexation of Crimea would not have happened.
Speaking of the reported 100,000 Russian troops on the Ukrainian border, he said: “This deployment is not just muscle flexing…
“We are dealing with the largest troop movement in Russia since the Second World War.”
Russian state-owned Sputnik news agency reports that Ukraine “likely retains the technical capability to build a nuclear arsenal”.
But it added: “The state of its civilian nuclear power programme leaves something to be desired.
“Last year, Ukrainian nuclear industry workers sounded the alarm about the threat of ‘another Chernobyl’ citing a ‘dire situation’ which they said was ‘taking shape in the country's nuclear energy sector’ due to a lack of oversight, safety permits, and funds.”
This comes as Ukraine's defence minister Andrii Taran warned Moscow is looking to store nukes in the flashpoint region.
"Crimea's infrastructure is being prepared for potentially storing nuclear weapons," Taran told the European Parliament's defence sub-committee.
"The very presence of nuclear munitions in the peninsula may spark a whole array of complex political, legal and moral problems", he said.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian navy threatened to shoot at Russian FSB security service patrol boats in a worrying flashpoint in the Azov Sea, say reports.
In the latest of several spats, five vessels carried out “provocative manoeuvres” around three artillery boats of Ukraine’s navy.
“In response to the threats from the Russian vessels, our sailors had to warn of a readiness to use weapons,” said Andrii Klymenko, editor of Black Sea News.
TIMELINE OF TENSION
Russia's aggression in Ukraine has raised fears of all-out war in the region.
March 5 – Ukraine slams an upsurge of violence in east of the country and calls on western allies to intervene.
March 26 – four Ukrainian soldiers are killed 19 miles north of eastern city of Donetsk.
March 30 – Moscow and Kiev accuse each other of causing an escalation in violence.
March 31 – Both Washington and Kiev report Russian troop movements in Crimea and at Russia's border with Ukraine – an area controlled by separatists.
April 1 – Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accuses Moscow of massing thousands of soldiers on the border and in Crimea.
April 2 – US President Joe Biden gives his 'unwavering support' to Ukraine.
Russia says the build-up is a three-week snap military drill to test combat readiness in response to threats from NATO.
April 14 – Russia sends 15 warships to Ukraine and stages live-fire-drills
Leaked Ukrainian government report says Russia is set to deploy 30,000 more troops to border after amassing 80,000 soldiers in the region
After the Kiev sailors issued the threat to shoot, they were allowed to proceed, he said.
"Russia continues to violate international law,” said the Ukrainian navy
Yesterday, Ukraine protested against Russia's decision to bar foreign warships and state vessels from parts of the Black Sea in the direction of the Kerch Strait from next week until October.
Ukraine’s foreign ministry said: “It is Ukraine that has the right to regulate navigation in these parts of the Black Sea.”
But it's not just the sea Putin is attempting to control.
Satellite images show Russia has installed in Crimea S-400 anti-aircraft systems with a range of 250 miles, according to Information Navigator.
This allows “the Russian occupation forces to control almost all the airspace of the Black Sea”.
EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine can be traced back to the Soviet era
More than a century ago, in 1917, the Ukrainians first tried to set up their own state – with the aftershock threatening to destabilise the whole Soviet Union.
During the civil war that followed the revolutions in Moscow and Kiev, Ukrainian peasants rejected the imposition of Soviet rule.
Some 15 years later, Stalin tried to quash any further dissent from Ukraine through policies that led to the starvation of five million people across the Soviet Union, including four million Ukrainians.
If Ukraine rejected Soviet ideology and the Soviet system, Stalin feared the downfall of the whole Soviet Union as Ukrainian rebellion could inspire Georgians, Armenians or Tajiks to the same.
Dr Jade McGlynn told the Sun Online: "Russia still has a very imperialistic understanding of itself and there is a famous quote that 'Russia cannot be an empire without Ukraine'.
"With Crimea, I lived in Russia during the annexation in 2014, and everybody supported it. There were street parties for weeks.
"There was public pressure at the time on Putin to annex Donbass and Luhansk like he had Crimea.
"In Russia's view, Ukrainians and Russians are essentially the same people until the 1900s they used to call Ukrainians 'little Russians'.
"Russian history, and particularly the east of Ukraine, has been intertwined.
"The 1990s were a very traumatic time for Russians – they lost their empire, almost overnight.
"Putin has been trying to restore that sense of being a great power."
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