Russian President Vladimir Putin had a message for the international community on Friday: “It’s best not to mess with us.”
While speaking at a pro-Kremlin youth camp on Friday, Mr. Putin downplayed the Kremlin’s involvement in destabilizing eastern Ukraine while sending a message to Western nations that he isn’t afraid to use force to forward Russian interests.
“It’s best not to mess with us,” Mr. Putin said at an assembly just outside Moscow, Reuters reported Friday. “Russia is far from being involved in any large-scale conflicts. […] We don’t want that and don’t plan on it. But naturally, we should always be ready to repel any aggression towards Russia.”
Mr. Putin then took a moment to remind the world of Russia’s nuclear arsenal, saying, “Thank God, I think no one is thinking of unleashing a large-scale conflict with Russia. I want to remind you that Russia is one of the leading nuclear powers,” Reuters reported.
Pro-Russia separatists infused with new weapons and support from Russia took the strategically important town of Novoazovsk earlier in the week. The Associated Press reported Friday that at least six unmarked tanks bearing the flags of the would-be state of Novorossiya (New Russia) were among the separatists’ new weapons.
“There is no Russian equipment coming through here. We are fighting with the machinery the (Ukrainian forces) abandon. They just dump it and flee,” said a rebel commander who identified himself only by the nom-de-guerre Frantsuz (The Frenchman), AP reported.
Western officials don’t believe such claims.
“Despite Moscow’s hollow denials, it is now clear that Russian troops and equipment have illegally crossed the border,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday, AP reported. “This is a blatant violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It defies all diplomatic efforts for a peaceful solution.”