Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images(MOSCOW) — Russia’s president Vladimir Putin in a new documentary film said he gave an order to shoot down a passenger airliner in 2014 that was feared to be hijacked and headed toward the opening ceremony of the Sochi Winter Olympics. The order was cancelled after it proved to be a false alarm, Putin said.
Speaking in a new two-hour documentary, titled Putin, that has been released on Russian social media, Putin said he had been en route to the opening ceremony on Feb. 7, 2014, when he received a call from security officers overseeing the Winter Games in the Black Sea city.
“I was told, 'A plane en route from Ukraine to Istanbul was seized, captors demand landing in Sochi,'” Putin said in the film. He said he asked the officers what the procedure was for such a situation and they replied it was to shoot down hijacked aircraft that threatened the event.
“I told them, 'Act according to the plan,'” Putin said. Five minutes after giving the order, Putin said, he received another call informing him it was a false alarm, a passenger aboard the airliner was drunk and had made threats.
The incident that Putin referred to was known about at the time, though not Putin’s shoot-down order. A drunk Ukrainian man aboard a Turkish Pegasus Airlines Boeing 737-800 flying from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv to Istanbul had tried to force the plane’s pilots to divert toward Sochi. In some Russian media reports at the time, the man was said to have shouted, “Bomb!,” and “Let’s fly to Sochi!”
The pilots radioed about the incident and the flight made an emergency landing at an Istanbul airport, arriving safely with the 110 passengers aboard the flight. It was not reported as a major incident at the time.
The documentary, hosted by a senior journalist from Russian state television, Andrey Kondrashov, has been released ahead of the country’s presidential election on March 18. In the softball interview, Putin polishes the strongman image that he has cultivated throughout his 18-year rule.
“A person in my position does not have the right to show weakness,” Putin told Kondrashov.
Kondrashov asks Putin if there is anything that he cannot forgive. Putin replied, “Betrayal.”
But the Russian leader added that he hasn’t ever encountered any “serious events, which it would be possible to call betrayal.”
The journalist asked, “They were just afraid to betray you?”
“Hard to say," Putin answered. "Maybe I chose such people who aren’t capable of that.”
Putin’s comments about betrayal come amid widespread suspicion that the Kremlin ordered the nerve-gas poisoning of a former Russian double agent in Britain last week. British officials have hinted heavily that they believe authorization for the attack on the ex-spy, Sergey Skripal, likely came from Russia, and British media have reported that the U.K. government is preparing retaliatory measures against Moscow.
Russian officials have denied involvement, but Russian state media have made veiled threats toward “traitors” since the attack. An anchor on Russia’s main evening news broadcast on Channel 1 last week warned “traitors” to avoid Britain, noting, “There have been too many strange incidents. People get hanged, poisoned, they die in helicopter crashes and fall out of windows in industrial quantities.”
“Maybe it’s something with the climate,” the anchor, Kirill Kleymenov said.
In the documentary Putin also talked about his grandfather’s work as a chef for Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator.
He “was a cook at Lenin's and later at Stalin’s, at one of the dachas in the Moscow area," Putin said in the film. The story that Putin’s grandfather, Spiridon Putin, had been a chef for Stalin was already known. The film said Spiridon Putin cooked for other members of the Soviet establishment until not long before his death in 1965 at the age of 86, Reuters reported.
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