Moscow was ready to put its nuclear forces on alert to ensure Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine last year, President Vladimir Putin has said in a pre-recorded documentary.

Putin also said that Russia had saved the life of Ukraine's former pro-Moscow president, Viktor Yanukovich, who he said had been in danger after 'revolutionaries' seized power following weeks of violent street protests in Kiev last year, the Reuters news agency reported.

"For us it became clear and we received information that there were plans not only for his capture, but, preferably for those who carried out the coup, but also for his physical elimination. As one famous historical figure said: 'No person, no problem'," Putin said in the documentary aired on Sunday.

Nuclear readiness

Violent protests over Yanukovich's decision to back away from a trade agreement with the European Union in favour of closer ties with Moscow forced him from power in February last year.

Yanukovich's overthrow ultimately prompted Russia to intervene and annex the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea.

"Of course it wasn't immediately understandable [what the reaction would be to Crimea's annexation]. Therefore, in the first stages, I had to orient our armed forces. Not just orient, but give direct orders," he said.

When asked if he had been ready to put Russia's nuclear forces on alert, he said: "We were ready to do it."

'Coup d'etat' 

Putin said it had not occurred to him to try and take back Crimea until after the 'coup' that deposed Yanukovich.

The move struck a deep chord with Russians with Putin's approval ratings continuing to climb in the past year, hitting a record 88 percent, according to figures released last week, the AFP news agency reported.

He explained how after Yanukovich fled Kiev in the face of a pro-Western coup, he organised a secret poll to test the sentiment of the Crimean population.

"But it was not us who carried out the coup d'etat. This was done by nationalists and people with extreme beliefs" in Kiev, Putin said.

Putin insisted his actions in Crimea prevented the kind of violence now seen in eastern Ukraine and said it was his duty and that he would do the same thing today.

"If you have the inner confidence that you are doing the right thing and that your actions aim to benefit the country and to defend the interests of the people of Russia, if this inner confidence is there, then everything will work out," Putin said.

Source: Agencies