Russia is warning that it will unleash a nuclear attack if the U.S. or any of its NATO allies enter the Crimean Peninsula.
Lawmaker Vyacheslav Alekseyevich Nikonov said that Russia will not hesitate to use nuclear weapons in response to any U.S. action in the Ukraine, according to The Washington Free Beacon. He said that a May 28 meeting between Russian military officers "discussed Moscow's willingness to use nuclear weapons in a conflict with military leaders in NATO."
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared Crimea to be an annexation of Russia and said that it was his responsibility to govern the area, as the peninsula has an ethnic Russian majority. The area was once a semi-autonomous part of Ukraine, but was taken over by the Russians in 2014 when Putin's military forces invaded after a revolt deposed the pro-Russian government, according to CNN.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the annexation "a robbery on an international scale."
According to Al Jazeera, NATO and the Ukraine have accused Russia of providing military support to separatist rebels since 2014 and is partly responsible for the years-long conflict that has killed nearly 10,000 people. Russian leaders deny the accusation.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is planning a referendum on whether the country should join NATO. If the country were to join the alliance, then NATO partners would be bound to protect the country's freedom and security through any means necessary, including military action.
"Four years ago, only 16 percent (of the Ukrainian people) favored Ukraine's entry into NATO. Now it's 54 percent," said Poroshenko.
If the country voted in favor of entering NATO, Poroshenko says that he will do all he can "to achieve membership in the transatlantic alliance."
However, such a move would only strain tensions with Russia, who already says that the organization violated promises by admitting Poland and other Eastern European countries in the 1990s, after the Cold War.
According to Nikonov, if the Ukraine were to enter NATO or if NATO forces attempted to intervene in the Ukrainian conflict, the result could be nuclear war.
"On the issue of NATO expansion on our borders, at some point I heard from the Russian military -- and I think they are right -- if U.S. forces, NATO forces, are, were, in the Crimea, in eastern Ukraine, Russia is undefendable militarily in case of conflict without using nuclear weapons in the early stage of the conflict," said Nikonov, according to The Washington Free Beacon.