A former Russian oligarch has sensationally claimed that Vladimir Putin believes he is already at war with the US and its allies.
Oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was once Russia’s richest person, has suggested in a bombshell new interview that the Russian President considers the west’s response to the Ukraine invasion as proof that a conflict is already under way.
Speaking with Bloomberg, Khodorkovsky said the west had not properly grasped Putin’s point of view following the introduction of tough sanctions against Moscow, and the decision to supply weapons and training for the Ukrainian military.
As a result, he said while the west considered the situation to be isolated to Ukraine alone, the Kremlin believed it was waging a war against the US, Europe and other allies inside Ukraine’s borders.
“Putin has said from the very beginning that this war includes them,” Khodorkovsky told the publication, adding that the president “thinks Nato is weak and that they will not defend the Baltics” if Russia invaded the nearby nations of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.
The Baltics were part of the Soviet Union before its collapse in December 1991, and in the wake of the Ukrainian invasion, countless experts have suggested Putin is on a wider mission to reclaim former Soviet states.
Khodorkovsky said that if Nato failed to protect the Baltics, Putin expects it will “collapse”, which in turn means the US’s power will also nosedive.
During the course of the Ukraine invasion, Nato has insisted that it would stick to the organisation’s founding principle of collective defence – which means if one member state is attacked, all others will leap to its defence – and explained that it hadn’t reacted more forcefully to Russia’s aggression as Ukraine wasn’t a Nato member.
However, Khodorkovsky said it was time for the US to show “a consistent policy of force” against Russia, and claimed sanctions would not be enough to resolve the conflict.
Who is Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
The 58-year-old was thought to be the wealthiest person in Russia in 2003, with a staggering fortune of $US15 billion.
He built up his wealth after the fall of the Soviet Union after being appointed CEO of Yukos Oil Co.
But in October 2003 his fortunes had changed, with the Russian government, under Putin’s control, arrested him and charged him with fraud before freezing Yukos’ shares.
Khodorkovsky spent a decade in prison before being released and exiled.
He now lives in London, and is a vocal critic of the Kremlin.
Next nation on Putin's hit list
The shocking claims come amid increasing signs Russia was ramping up its plans to expand.
Last month, a breakaway region within the tiny European nation of Georgia announced it was planning to hold a referendum to formally become part of Russia.
The pro-Russian region of South Ossetia – which has a population of around 50,000 – has declared itself to be a republic, although most of the world recognises it as belonging to Georgia.
But in a statement, South Ossetia’s President Anatoly Bibilov said he believed that “unity with Russia is our strategic goal” and “the aspiration of the people”.
However, there are fears the move by Georgia’s breakaway region could signal an escalation in Russia’s annexation ambitions, given the entire Ukraine invasion began after Putin officially recognised the Ukrainian separatist regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in February.
Earlier in March, US President Joe Biden repeated widespread claims that Putin has “much larger ambitions in Ukraine”.
“He wants to, in fact, re-establish the former Soviet Union. That’s what this is about,” Biden said at the time, years after Putin raised eyebrows in 2005 by claiming in a speech that the dissolution of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”.
Since then, many have suggested that the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Moldova and Georgia could be under threat.
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