Russian President Vladimir Putin is "obsessed with the idea of testing NATO," which has denounced Putin's alleged involvement in the ongoing Ukraine conflict, the Independent exclusively reported Monday. The comment came from new Odessa Gov. Mikheil Saakashvili, who said he cut ties with the Russian president after Putin indicated he would continue military intervention in Eastern Europe.
“Putin does not respect national borders, and he will push everywhere,” Saakashvili told the Independent. "Putin said three major things: One, we will make Georgia like Northern Cyprus. The second was that Ukraine was not a country but a territory. And the third thing was that the Baltic countries were not defendable. He said all these things, until we were no longer on talking terms."
The Independent interview was one of his first with Western press since being appointed governor of Odessa, a 2.3 million-person region in southwest Ukraine, in May. The governor formerly served as the president of Georgia, which recently had its own conflict with Russia, from 2004 to 2013.
Now in charge of Odessa, the controversial politician said Putin thrived on the support of corrupt officials in Ukraine, where he's been accused of -- and denied -- aiding pro-Russian rebels in their fight against the government. NATO has publicly condemned Putin's actions, and he has pushed back, saying that "we are not expanding anywhere; it is NATO infrastructure, including military infrastructure, that is moving towards our borders," Business Insider reported.
Russian security official Yevgeny Lukyanov recently issued a related warning, saying that Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia could become "targets" should they agree to host parts of an anti-missile shield from the United States, International Business Times previously reported.
Saakashvili also said he thinks the Baltic states could soon be in danger. “Putin asked whether Lithuanian President Adamkus really [thought] two or three scrap metal planes from NATO [could] defend him," Saakashvili said, adding that Putin responded with, “We are laughing at this equipment. Does he really think NATO will fight for the Balts?”
Saakashvili detailed to the Independent his plans to strengthen Odessa by eliminating its mafia and improving its economy. Meanwhile, he said, Putin remains "very worried about Ukraine" because "if Ukraine makes it, everything built around him will collapse." Read the full story here.